3 Easy Ways to Boost Baby's Iron Absorption
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You probably know that your baby needs iron from outside sources starting around age 4-6 months.
That’s because the iron your baby received from mom at the tail end of her pregnancy starts to diminish around the 4-6 month mark.
When we start introducing complimentary foods (those are foods that “compliment” formula or breastmilk…) it is important to focus on iron as a nutrient in the foods we offer baby.
What is Iron?
Iron is a mineral found in every cell of the body. Even though your baby (and you) need iron in incredibly small amounts, it is considered “essential”, meaning you have to get it from your diet.
Your body uses iron for many functions, but one of the most important things iron does is to make hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells.
And not getting enough iron during the critical periods of growth can negatively affect your baby’s overall health and cognitive development.
How Much Iron Does My Baby Need?
Babies age 7-12 months of age need 11 mg iron per day. If you’re using iron-fortified baby formula, much or all of your baby’s iron comes from here.
If you’re breastfeeding - while breastmilk contains iron that is very well absorbed by baby’s body - breastmilk alone will not meet baby’s iron needs after 6 months of age.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving breastfed infants 1 mg/kg/day of a liquid iron supplement until iron-containing solid foods are introduced at about six months of age.
Where is Iron in the Diet?
There are plant food and animal food sources of iron that a baby can eat. The animal type of iron (heme iron) is more well absorbed by the human body than is the plant-based sources (non-heme iron).
Here are some high iron foods to consider feeding your baby starting at 6 months:
Eggs (especially egg yolks)
Red meat (especially beef)
Poultry, dark red meat
How Can I Increase Baby’s Iron Absorption
Your baby absorbs the type of iron from animal foods fairly well. But there are a few things you can do to help maximize baby’s absorption of iron from the plant foods you are feeding:
1. Cook in a Cast Iron Skillet
Cooking in cast iron can add iron to your food. One study from India showed a 16% increase in the iron content of foods that were cooked in cast iron vs. teflon.
It also appears that foods that take a longer time to cook (for example: spaghetti sauce prepared in a cast iron skillet) may release more iron than short cook time foods like hamburger.
You can also use a product like Lucky Iron Fish in your cooking. This is an iron ingot used during cooking that has been used in Cambodia, where 44% of women have iron deficiency anemia. This is a kind of in-home fortification system of iron transfer.
Click here to see the Lucky Iron Fish on Amazon.
2. Eat Vitamin-C Containing Foods
Vitamin C and iron work together: vitamin C helps your body absorb more of the iron you eat from plant foods.
Almost all fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, so offering baby a variety of fruits and vegetables is one way to ensure your baby is getting vitamin C.
But if you’re interested, some of the highest vitamin C plant foods include:
3. Eat Animal Foods
You want to include animal foods like egg yolk and meat, fish and poultry because they contain iron. But on top of that, there is something in these animal foods that ALSO helps your body absorb more of the iron you’re eating in plant foods.
Eating foods like lean meats, fish or poultry along with beans or leafy greens can actually help increase iron absorption from plant foods up to 3 times.
For more information about getting a SAFE start to solid foods, check out my FREE online workshop “BABY-LED WEANING FOR BEGINNERS: How to get YOUR baby to try 100 foods before turning one without YOU having to spoon-feed purees or buy pouches!”
You can click here to sign up for this free online feeding workshop.