Does your baby need an iron supplement?

A new study hit the news wire about the potential benefits of iron supplementation for low-birth-weight (LBW) babies. It has me thinking back to my experience with iron deficiency during my pregnancy and my new baby’s sleep habits and mood swings.

In this study, which made headlines in the Globe and Mail, researchers said that LBW babies are more likely to end up iron-deficient and may need more of the blood-building nutrient for catch-up growth.

Going on the idea that smaller babies may not have as much stored iron as other babies, the researchers gave babies born at less than 5 pounds 8 ounces a drop or two of iron every day for six months. Then, off they went for 3 ½ years at which point they were brought back in for a repeat measure of IQ, and a survey about their behavior.

No relationship between IQ and iron supplementation was found, but parents of LBW babies who did not receive iron drops reported more behavioral issues such sleeping problems, anxiety, attention issues and even depression in their pre-schoolers.

Thinking back to my first baby, I do recall him becoming a pickier eater who refused meat and ate very few iron-rich foods for weeks on end. When his iron levels turned out to be low, I bumped up his levels temporarily with a supplement, just until his appetite returned. (Ferrous phos tissue salts are a great form of iron, but please consult a registered nutritionist or naturopath to avoid giving an incorrect dose to your child.) With more balanced eating, sleep improved and crankiness subsided.

So, like many minerals, adequate intake of iron can help make for a happier baby. But, do small babies under 6 months need a supplement?

The issue with iron is its absorbability.

Iron has its highest absorption rate from breast milk—the vitamin C and high level of lactose in breast milk, as well as the proteins lactoferrin and transferrin, help increase its absorption. Lactoferrin and transferrin also bind to iron, keeping it safe from any bad bacteria in the intestines.

Bad bacteria thrive on unbound iron. Any yeast or bacteria living on your baby’s gut can steal certain forms of iron and use it to grow more colonies. (You can read more about this in the Sprout Right book)

If you can exclusively breastfeed your small baby until they are ready for solids, then give foods with highly absorbable iron, while keep bad bacteria at bay with probiotics (like HMF Natogen, you may be able to prevent deficiency and its associated behavioural problems without an iron supplement.

That’s my take on the issue.

How much did your baby weigh? Were you advised to supplement with iron to encourage catch-up growth?

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