Q: My 9 month old is anemic and the Pediatrician started him on iron drops. I would like to raise the iron level up without using iron drops. What foods can I feed him that are high in iron and are age appropriate for him to eat?
A: If your son is anemic, it's very important for you and your pediatrician to work together to create a treatment plan that you're both comfortable with. If you're not comfortable giving your son the iron supplement your pediatrician recommended, be sure to let the doctor know. In babies, iron deficiency anemia can cause serious and potentially irreversible health problems if it's not properly treated. Sometimes, it's not possible to quickly reverse an iron deficiency through dietary changes alone, and an iron supplement becomes necessary—at least temporarily—to treat iron deficiency anemia. Your doctor will likely want to perform another blood test on your son after about a month of treatment to make sure the treatment is working and that your son's anemia is resolving.
Babies between the ages of 9 months and 24 months are at increased risk for iron-deficiency anemia because they're growing very rapidly, and it's difficult for them to get all the iron their bodies need from their diets alone. Full-term babies are born with iron stores in their bodies that they accumulated during the last months spent in their mothers' wombs. These iron stores can last as long as four to six months after birth. Premature and low-birth-weight babies have lower iron stores at birth, typically lasting only about two months or so.
The most common cause of iron deficiency anemia in babies is a lack of sufficient iron in the diet. But some babies' digestive tracts aren't able to absorb enough iron, even when they're eating iron-rich foods. That's when iron supplements can be very helpful. The good news is that most babies with anemia don't have to take the iron drops forever, just long enough to get their iron stores built back up. From there, an iron-rich diet can help maintain sufficient iron in the blood and body. Foods that are good sources of iron include meat, beans, egg yolks, and leafy greens, such as spinach, prepared in a manner that makes them suitable for babies to eat. Foods that are iron fortified, such as some infant cereals, are also good sources of the mineral. Cow milk, on the other hand, is a poor source of iron and it actually interferes with the body's absorption of iron. Since vitamin C enhances the body's absorption of iron, it's a good idea to feed iron-rich foods or iron supplements along with a source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruit.