Ironing out the confusion!
You might have heard the catchy rhyme ‘food before one is just for fun’. Although food, before one should certainly be fun, at about six months your baby, will also need some complementary foods as well as milk. Iron-rich foods are of particular importance. Babies and young children need iron for their brains, bodies and immune systems to develop normally.
Babies ‘bank’ iron during pregnancy
Your baby will be born with enough iron stores to last until about six months of age. The iron level your baby is born with depends on three factors:
- Your iron levels during pregnancy. Mum’s, I mean, in case there are any dads reading this!
- Whether a baby is born full-term or preterm. Most of your baby’s iron stores build in the final trimester so early babies miss out
- Whether or not you had delayed cord clamping. Delayed cord clamping provides extra blood and therefore iron to your baby
How much iron is enough?
Babies aged 7-11 months need about 11mg of iron a day, the same as a grown man! From 1-6 years this decreases slightly to 7mg per day. No busy mum has the time to tot up how many mg of iron their baby eats, so let’s make this as simple as possible!
The easiest way to ensure that your baby gets enough iron is to offer iron-rich foods at every meal.
There have been concerns that babies who are weaned using a baby-led approach might not get the iron they need. Parents are not as likely to offer baby led weaners iron-fortified cereals or may offer more vegetables and fruit than meat initially. However, a randomised control trial has shown that “a baby-led approach to complementary feeding does not appear to increase the risk of iron deficiency in infants when their parents are given advice to offer ‘high-iron’ foods with each meal”.
There’s iron, and there’s iron!
Kale and spinach touted as excellent sources of iron online don’t live up to their high iron reputation. A baby would need to eat 120g spinach to get only 2mg of iron, and that’s much more spinach than your baby will eat in a mini muffin! On top of this, iron (non-haem) found in plant-based foods is 2-3 less well absorbed than iron found in foods such as meat and fish. On the upside, pairing non-haem iron foods with foods high in vitamin C like tomatoes, peppers, oranges and broccoli will help your baby to absorb a little more.
So, as you can see, there are lots of simple ways to make sure your baby gets the Iron-rich foods they need to grow and thrive.