High Iron Foods for BabiesMar 13, 2023
Do you know what is one of the most common questions parents ask me?
“We are starting solid foods soon - what is the best food to start with?”
Here’s the great news - you can start with ANY food you want! There is no evidence that starting with something sweet will make your baby only want sweet foods.
In fact, both formula and breastmilk are sweet so your baby is used to that flavor.
One thing I do recommend? Look for foods that are high in iron.
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What is iron and why are high iron foods important for your baby?
Iron is a mineral that helps our bodies maintain healthy blood. It is essential in making hemoglobin which is a protein in your red blood cells. Those cells carry oxygen from your lungs throughout your body.
Pretty necessary stuff, right?
So why is it so important for babies?
Well, in addition to carrying oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body, it is also essential for proper neurological development for infants and children. As babies go through rapid growth, their bodies will demand more iron.
Here’s the thing:
Babies get iron in three ways:
- Circulating iron stores from mom that last for about 4 months
- Breastfed babies get a small amount of iron from breast milk, but it is not enough to meet baby's needs.
- Formula-fed babies will get iron in the formula but iron-rich foods are still important as they start solids.
Babies, especially breastfed babies, are more likely to develop anemia which is where the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells.
When a baby is anemic, you will notice increased fussiness, weakness, sleepier than normal, pale skin, and even jaundice.
What are high-iron foods for baby?
There are two types of iron you will find in foods: heme and non-heme iron.
Heme iron foods are commonly found in animal products and more easily digested:
- Meat (beef, pork, lamb, goat, venison)
- Seafood (fatty fish)
- Poultry (chicken or turkey)
Non-heme iron foods are more plant-based and a bit harder to digest:
It is recommended to pair non-heme iron foods with foods rich in Vitamin C to help your baby’s body absorb the iron they need for development such as:
- Citrus fruits like oranges
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark green leafy vegetables
What if I am using store-bought food?
The best piece of advice I can give is to learn to read the nutritional label to see how much iron is in the food. Look for food with ANY iron in it.
It is harder to find than you'd think!
Don’t rely on the marketing when it says it is iron-rich. In fact, it is usually a small amount!
If you opt to use baby cereal, take comfort in knowing that most are already fortified with iron.
Does my baby need an iron supplement?
Your pediatric provider will monitor your child’s iron levels at either the 9 or 12-month check-up. It may be necessary to supplement if your provider recommends it.
Let’s be honest though - iron is NOT the tastiest and it can be really hard to get your baby to take it. Your pediatrician may also suggest pairing it with some orange juice to help the iron absorb better.
In my experience, babies may refuse iron supplements, but I see babies do well with novaferrum.
There are so many different sources of iron. Having a wide variety of foods for your baby will help them get the iron they need for healthy development.
If you are concerned about your child’s iron levels, don’t hesitate to contact your pediatric provider for guidance.
>>> Want to feel more comfortable feeding your baby solids? Starting Solids 101 is a great place to start to figure out what is right for YOUR baby and family. <<<
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Have questions about starting solids?
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- BLW vs purees
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- What, how much and when to offer solids
- Introducing allergens
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- Bonus: Starting cups and drinks
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