Weaning is one of the most important milestones of that all-important first year of your baby’s life. For the first six months, you know that milk, whether it is breast milk or infant formula, is all your growing baby needs to thrive.
But what happens once you start introducing your baby to solid food? Is he getting all the nutrients he needs? Is he getting enough iron?
Iron is responsible for crucial life-sustaining roles such as carrying oxygen through our bodies, producing energy and forming antioxidants. It is thus essential that developing babies get a sufficient amount of iron in their diet.
Before we discuss this subject further, here are a few things to remember:
- The World Health Organisation and the American Academy of Pediatrics state that a baby should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. (If breastfeeding is not possible, then bottle-feeding pumped breast milk or infant formula is recommended). Milk is the ideal and only food required for the healthy growth and development of infants for the first six months.
- You can start weaning after your baby is six months; however, it is important to remember that for the first year, most of your baby’s nutrients will still be met through milk.
- Research shows that healthy, full-term babies generally have enough iron stored in their body to last for at least the first six months. Kellymom provides an interesting chart on why anemia is not common in breastfed babies. You can read about that here.
- Iron and vitamin C go hand-in-hand as vitamin C helps in the absorption of iron.
15 awesome sources of iron for your baby.
There are plenty of foods which are naturally rich in iron, that are both nutritious and tasty, that you can introduce to your infant. Try to give these rather than iron-fortified foods or supplements. Below is a comprehensive list (or should I say tasting menu?) of iron-rich foods for your growing infant.
As mentioned above, breast milk (or infant formula) is the BEST source of iron for your baby, especially for the first six months
Meat and poultry.
Chicken, turkey, and beef are all rich in iron and can be ground and mixed in purees.
Pulses, including beans, lentils, and peas.
Pulses, such as baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, garbanzo beans, lentils, and peas are extremely good for your baby as they are rich in iron and protein and are high in fiber. They also contain a host of minerals and vitamins and are an easy first food. Yellow lentils are lighter than red or brown lentils and won’t cause your baby discomfort due to gas.
Baked beans are tasty, and usually become a toddler’s favorite meal.
Dark green leafy vegetables.
Broccoli tops the list here. Mix it with tomato (or as a broccoli-tomato soup) to bring out the maximum iron content of the broccoli.Spinach is another iron-loaded vegetable, and the body absorbs the iron content quite easily.
Watercress, fenugreek leaves, and mustard leaves can all be mixed in soups or curries.
Oily fish, such as sardines, tuna, mackerel, and salmon are another source of iron. However, do not include more than two servings of oily fish per week, as oily fish contains small amounts of toxins that could build up over time.
Eggs are an easy way to meet a baby’s daily iron requirement. Be cautious when introducing eggs to your baby, as some babies might have an allergic reaction to them. Start with hard-boiled eggs so that the yolk is hard and well-cooked. Once your baby is a little older, you can offer scrambled eggs or even a nutritious vegetable omelet!
When offering your baby cereals, make sure they are iron-fortified for extra benefit. Give them in milk or even dry as a snack.
The perfect breakfast for infants and toddlers. Sprinkle in crushed nuts and add fruit for an extra dose of nutrition.
Dried apricots, figs, raisins and prunes can be healthy finger food for your baby.You can introduce them between nine and twelve months.However, being hard, they could pose a choking hazard, so make sure to chop them into bite-sized pieces and always be around your baby while he’s eating.
Nuts are also a great source of iron, amongst other nutrients. Grind them into porridge or cereal or milk, or chop them into small pieces for your toddler. Don’t give whole nuts to your baby or toddler, as they could lead to choking.
Swap potatoes for sweet potatoes, cut them into thin slices, spray a little olive oil and bake. A homemade, iron-dense healthy finger food for your baby/toddler.
Another fantastic (and tasty) source of iron for the vegetarian baby.
Easy to add to rice dishes, casseroles, omelets or even to boiled vegetables.
Most babies enjoy beetroot because of its sweetish flavor, soft texture, and bright color. A great food to introduce to your infant. Or offer as a beetroot soup.
It’s not called a superfood for no reason. Brimming with nutrients, quinoa is so versatile and can be easily incorporated into your baby’s diet.
Babycenter provides an in-depth article on the animal and plant sources of iron, and lists exactly how much iron your baby/ toddler needs.
Which babies are at risk for anemia (iron-deficiency)?
- Premature babies are usually anemic, since babies get the majority of their iron supplies from their mother during the third trimester of pregnancy
- Babies with a low birth-weight (less than 3000 grams or 6.5 pounds) could have reduced iron stores at birth
- If the mother has Diabetes or had Gestational Diabetes during pregnancy
- If the mother is anemic or had low iron levels during pregnancy. In conclusion, it is important to remember that while the benefits of iron are plenty, too much iron can in fact be harmful. So refrain from giving your baby iron supplements or follow-on iron-fortified formula milk if he is consuming a healthy and varied diet.