Your baby’s first foods should be good sources of iron. If you choose to concern yourself with any nutrient for your child, this is it!
The unborn baby collects iron from his mother while he’s in the womb so that he has sufficient stores to last him approximately 6 months after birth. The majority of this iron transfer happens in the last month of gestation. So, if a baby is born early, iron is even more important!
What Iron Does
Iron is needed to transfer oxygen from the air we breathe to the cells in our body. Oxygen is needed for growth. Therefore, iron is needed for growth! A human’s growth trajectory is at its highest during a child’s first year of life. A 6 month old baby has higher iron requirements than an adult male!
Iron is also needed for proper brain development. Iron deficiency anemia (found in severe iron deficiency) can result in persisting reductions in cognitive, motor, and behavioural functioning. The iron deficiency can be reversed but the damage has already been done.
Iron deficiency can also lead to decreased immune function and improper hormone function. In one study, infants who were supplemented with iron had 50% fewer respiratory tract infections, cases of diarrhea, and specific fevers. This is why we focus so much on preventing any deficiencies from occurring!
Regardless of how important iron is, if every baby was consuming enough, I wouldn’t feel the need to blog about it. But I think the title of this journal article from 2010 speaks for itself:
This is a real threat! The current rates of iron deficiency are between 12 and 64%!
I know what you’re going to say next. “I don’t need to be concerned, I only feed my baby healthy food: avocados, bananas, squash, etc!” Remember, ‘healthy’ is a relative term. The healthiest diet one could eat would vary depending on one’s age, gender, activity level, genetics, and many other factors. Fruits and vegetables are wonderful but they don’t contain the amount of iron a baby needs when starting off on solids.
Some foods that are naturally high in iron include:
- cooked egg yolks
- cooked meat, poultry, and fish
- legumes such as black beans, chickpeas, lentils, edamame beans, or tofu
So do your baby a favour and start taking the issue of iron seriously.