In Australia, approximately 75% of infants aged 6 to 12 months and 25% of children aged 1 to 2 years do not receive the recommended dietary iron intake.
Despite their small size, infants and children need the same amount of iron in baby food as adults. Iron is essential to support rapid blood and muscle growth, immunity, brain development and learning.
If iron deficiency is not treated, it can progress to anemia, a severe iron deficiency in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Alarmingly, anemia affects around 8% of children under the age of five in Australia and, if untreated, can lead to developmental disabilities and subsequent cognitive impairment.
How do I know if my child has iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency in children often has vague or no symptoms, especially if it has not progressed to anemia.
Symptoms include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, poor behavior, frequent infections, and pica (eating non-food substances such as paper, clay, and dirt).
Diagnosis usually includes a blood test to screen for iron markers such as ferritin, a protein that stores iron. Doctors often recommend these tests for people who are at high risk. Details are shown in the figure below.
What are the first options for treatment?
When iron deficiency and anemia are caused by a lack of iron in the diet, both can often be effectively addressed with dietary changes or oral iron supplements.
The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne recommends increasing your intake of iron-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, leafy vegetables and legumes, and reducing your milk intake to less than 500ml (about 2 cups) per day. This is recommended. This is because cow’s milk is associated with decreased iron stores in young children.
Your doctor may also prescribe oral iron supplements. Liquid or tablet administration is usually recommended for at least three months, during which time follow-up blood tests can be done to see how well your child is responding to the supplement.
Existing evidence suggests that supplements are a more effective way to replenish iron stores than dietary changes alone, and ferrous sulfate is the most effective iron supplement for young children.
Dealing with side effects
Iron supplements are known to have nasty side effects such as constipation, nausea, diarrhea, dark stools, and stains on your teeth. This can make compliance difficult, especially for young children. The approach to reducing side effects varies from child to child.
Some supplements may be better tolerated than others, so your doctor may recommend alternative supplements. Another option is to adjust your dose by using a lower dose of the supplement or taking it every other day.
Taking iron supplements with or immediately after meals can also reduce side effects. However, absorption may be reduced, so you should consult your doctor.
If iron supplements are not working or you have compliance problems, your doctor may prescribe iron drops. These include multiple visits to hospitals and specialized clinics to receive iron injections, with each session potentially lasting more than an hour.
How can I prevent iron deficiency in my child?
To prevent iron deficiency, it is important to stay aware of your child’s iron intake and the factors that can affect its absorption.
For example, drinks containing tannins (tea, coffee, chocolate drinks) can inhibit iron absorption. However, vitamin C and organic acids in fruits and vegetables, as well as high-quality protein in meat and fish, can aid absorption.
Following national nutritional guidelines from infancy can help support your child’s iron supplementation. This includes introducing iron-rich solid foods from around 6 months of age to help healthy breastfed infants replenish their iron stores from birth.
Approximately six months is also the best time to introduce foods to minimize the risk of food allergies, such as iron-rich foods such as seafood and nut butters.
From 12 months onwards, your child’s diet should comply with the Australian Dietary Guidelines and emphasize a balanced, nutritious diet that includes a variety of foods. A diet that follows this pattern requires getting enough iron from meat, bread, and cereals, as well as iron absorption enhancers such as oranges, hot peppers, and other fresh fruits and vegetables.
If your child is a picky eater or has limited access to a variety of foods, bread, drinks (for example, juice for children over 12 months and Milo for older children), breakfast cereals Look for iron-fortified options such as. .
If your child is diagnosed with iron deficiency, remember that the road to recovery is different. Talking to your general practitioner or nutritionist can help you customize a solution to your specific needs.
Yianna Zhang, Session Lecturer; University of Melbourne; Amanda Patterson, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health Sciences; newcastle universityKen Ng, Senior Lecturer and Course Coordinator (Master of Food Science); University of Melbourne
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.