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Babies Need Iron for a Brighter Future

Babies Need Iron for a Brighter Future: Main Image
Getting enough iron early in life may predict future educational attainment and happiness
Getting enough iron early in life may predict future educational attainment and happiness in adults, reports a study in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Why iron?

Iron is a part of the hemoglobin molecule that carries oxygen throughout the body. It also functions in energy production, immune system health, and proper brain and nervous system development. Without enough iron, people can become anemic, which can cause fatigue, increased susceptibility to infections, learning difficulties, developmental delays, and behavioral problems in children.

Less iron means more problems

The new study compared educational achievement, employment, marital status, and physical and mental health of 122 adults (average age 25 years) who had been iron deficient as babies with those who had had sufficient iron levels as babies.

Adults who had been anemic as babies were significantly less likely to have finished high school and were more likely to be single. They also reported having poorer emotional health, including more negative emotions and feelings of detachment or dissociation. No differences in employment or physical health between the groups were noted.

"Early brain effects of chronic severe iron deficiency in infancy may disrupt fundamental neural processes underlying sensory, cognitive, socioemotional, and motor development and contribute to diverging developmental trajectories," commented the researchers. On the bright side, they noted, "Poor long-term outcomes, at least on measures of overall functioning, may be prevented if iron treatment is provided before iron deficiency becomes chronic and severe."

Beefing up baby's iron

Babies are born with some iron reserves, and breast-feeding provides full-term babies with enough iron for the first six months of their lives. After that, they need to get extra iron from fortified cereals or other iron-rich foods. Formula-fed babies should receive an iron-fortified formula for the first 9 to 12 months of life. Since cow's milk can inhibit iron absorption, ask your pediatrician whether your child should avoid cow's milk during the first year of life.

Children between 6 and 24 months are especially vulnerable to iron deficits due to their rapid growth, so getting enough iron at this time is crucial.

Some baby-friendly sources of iron include:

Iron-fortified cereals:
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Dried fruit
  • Fish (non-shellfish for babies under one year)
  • Poultry
  • Beef
Eating iron-rich foods with these vitamin C-rich foods increases iron absorption:
  • Mango
  • Cantaloupe
  • Berries
  • Papaya
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussel's sprouts
  • Leafy greens
  • Winter squash

Your pediatrician may recommend giving your child an iron supplement. It's important to give the right amount of iron, as too much can also be harmful. Iron overdose is a leading cause of poisoning among children less than five years. Keep all iron-containing products out of reach of children.

(J Pediatr 2013;10.1016/j.jpeds.2013.05.015)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation's premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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