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Iron Deficiency & Your Baby

Did you know that iron is vital to your infants neurological development, and that research suggests that low iron at critical brain growth periods may have lasting affects on their brain?

Animal models suggest that iron deficiency during critical brain growth periods alters neurometabolism, neurotransmitters, myelination, and gene and protein profiles.

In humans, there is evidence that 6- to 24-month-old infants with iron-deficiency anaemia are at risk for poorer cognitive, motor, social-emotional, and neurophysiological development in the short- and long-term outcome. Increased intestinal absorption of lead has also been shown to be inversely related to iron deficiency; the lower the iron, the more lead is absorbed. Lead is a known neurotoxin, even at quite low blood concentration levels.

In the third trimester of pregnancy, babies accrete enough iron to last them through to around 6 months of age. (This is impacted by a number of maternal conditions, and also pre-term birth.) From 6 months onwards, their needs for iron dramatically increase; between the ages of 7-12 months of age, an infant requires 11mg of iron per day (this is more than an adult male!). From 1 to 3 years, they require around 7mg/day, and between 4 to 8 years of age, around 10mg/day.

Given infants can eat such small portions of food, toddlers are notoriously too busy to eat, and preschoolers are fussy; it is essential that we're feeding our children iron-rich foods with every meal.

So, where do we find iron?

Basically there are two types of iron: heme iron (found in animal based products) and non-heme iron (from plants, & eggs). Heme iron is more readily absorbed, but we can increase the rate of absorption of non-heme iron by pairing it with some Vitamin C-rich foods (such as vegetables & fruits).

Sources of Heme-iron:

  • Liver

  • Marrow

  • Beef

  • Lamb

  • Seafood

  • Pork

  • Chicken (especially the darker meats closer to the bone)

  • Turkey

Sources of Non-Heme iron:

  • Lentils & legumes

  • Tofu & tempeh

  • Leafy green vegetables, like spinach, kale & parsley

  • Whole grains

  • Nuts & seeds

How much Iron is there in food?

  • Beef = 3mg iron per 1/2 cup meat

  • Chicken = 0.5-1mg iron per 1/2 cup of meat

  • Cooked pulses = 6.6mg iron per 100 grams of legumes

  • Tofu = 3.5mg iron per 1 cup

  • Dark leafy greens = 6mg of iron per 1 cup

  • 1 egg = 1mg of iron

Randomised trials of infant iron supplementation show benefits, indicating that adverse effects can be prevented and/or reversed with iron earlier in development or before iron deficiency becomes severe or chronic.

If your baby was born pre-term, or you had low iron through your 3rd trimester, or your child is particularly fussy with food - get in touch with me today to see how we can support your child's brain and neurodevelopment through optimal iron levels.


Robert D. Baker, Frank R. Greer, The Committee on Nutrition; Diagnosis and Prevention of Iron Deficiency and Iron-Deficiency Anemia in Infants and Young Children (0–3 Years of Age). Pediatrics November 2010; 126 (5): 1040–1050. 10.1542/peds.2010-2576

Lozoff B. Iron deficiency and child development. Food Nutr Bull. 2007 Dec;28(4 Suppl):S560-71. doi: 10.1177/15648265070284S409. PMID: 18297894.

Lozoff B, Georgieff MK. Iron deficiency and brain development. Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2006 Sep;13(3):158-65. doi: 10.1016/j.spen.2006.08.004. PMID: 17101454.

Tseng PT, Cheng YS, Yen CF, Chen YW, Stubbs B, Whiteley P, Carvalho AF, Li DJ, Chen TY, Yang WC, Tang CH, Chu CS, Yang WC, Liang HY, Wu CK, Lin PY. Peripheral iron levels in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2018 Jan 15;8(1):788. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-19096-x. PMID: 29335588; PMCID: PMC5768671.

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