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Pump up the iron in you and your child

In most cases, Iron Deficiency (ID) is fairly easy to prevent, yet according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world. As much as 50 percent of all pregnant women develop Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) and approximately 750 million children worldwide are affected. Leona Dove, a Toronto-based Nurse and Blood Specialist, says there are certain signs parents can look for in their children and simple ways to enhance their family’s iron intake.

Why Are Expectant Mothers and Children At Risk?

Once a woman reaches child-bearing age her risk of ID increases, due to blood lost each month during menstruation. In pregnancy, the risk is increased because her body requires 50% the amount of iron to accommodate the increased blood volume needed for her baby.

Growth spurts increase the risk of ID in all babies and children, and some have a higher risk than others, including:

  • Premature or low birth weight babies – Babies born prematurely or with a low weight don’t have sufficient iron stores;
  • Babies who exclusively breastfeed for longer than 6 months – Studies have found a relationship between exclusive breastfeeding for more than 6 months and iron deficiency. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, and then introducing iron-fortified foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years of age or longer;
  • Young children aged 9 months to 3 years – The body has increasing needs for iron during this period of rapid growth and not getting enough dietary iron significantly increase the risk of ID;
  • Adolescents aged 10 through puberty – Between growth spurts and puberty, especially in girls beginning to menstruate, the need for iron is greatly increased.

How to Spot Iron Deficiency in Your Child

There’s a lot that a parent can do to help prevent and treat iron deficiency, beginning with knowing the signs and symptoms. Identify your child’s symptoms using this Symptoms Checker!

The signs of ID aren’t always obvious at first and often begin with a common triad of symptoms:

  1. Chronic fatigue
  2. Irritability
  3. Inability to concentrate

Other things to look for:

  • Pale skin
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Poor food intake (picky eating)
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling cold
  • Poor growth or development
  • Cravings to eat non-nutritional items (such as soil)

Increasing Iron Intake

If you suspect your child may be iron deficient then a trip to the doctor for blood work is in order. If found to have ID, the doctor may recommend an oral iron supplement. Fortunately, there are liquid and powder formulations available for children that are flavored and easier to take.

Also, increasing iron-rich foods is one of the best things that you can do to help prevent ID. Here are just a few kid-friendly foods that are rich in iron:

  • Red meat and poultry
  • Fish, including tuna
  • Spinach and other dark leafy greens (maybe this one isn’t quite kid friendly, but it’s high in iron and easily added to a smoothie or muffins)
  • Fruits such as mulberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and dehydrated prunes
  • Ready to eat, dry cereals (great snack between meals and should be eaten without milk; calcium can have an inhibitory effect on iron absorption)
  • Iron-fortified cereals
  • Granola bars

For more information, please visit Leona Dove’s blog, The Iron Maiden, at

a man carrying two children

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