Babies: Pumping Iron
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the crucial role that iron plays in promoting healthy growth and development in babies and young children—and for good reason. Iron is the key ingredient in hemoglobin, the substance in the blood that transports oxygen to the body’s organs and muscles. If your baby is running low on iron, oxygen can’t be transported effectively throughout to your baby’s muscles and organs, including her rapidly evolving baby brain.
As you would expect, a baby who isn’t getting enough iron isn’t going to thrive to the same extent as other babies the same age. That baby is going to be irritable, less physically active than other children the same age, and physically smaller (due, in part, to the fact that iron deficiency dulls the appetite). Iron deficiency also affects brain development in powerful ways, impacting on the baby’s ability to learn, so you would also expect that baby to be falling behind developmentally. It’s hard to imagine a single nutrient having such an impact on a baby’s health and well-being, but iron is a pretty important nutrient in the world of babies.
That’s one of the reasons why Mother Nature ensures that full-term babies are born with a six-month stockpile of iron reserves—roughly enough to carry them through until the time when they start eating solid foods. Babies who are born prematurely don’t have the same stores to draw upon, so they’ll need to top up their stores with an iron supplement from roughly age eight weeks to age one year.
And speaking of solids, once your baby starts eating solid foods, be sure to include age- iron-rich foods in her diet. To maximize the absorption of iron, serve iron-rich foods with foods that are rich in vitamin C. Note: Make sure your baby can tolerate each individual food before you start combining foods, in order to minimize the risk of food intolerances.