Are you worried if your child is getting enough Iron?

Iron is one of the most important minerals for both children and adults. It helps to transport oxygen throughout the body, keep your energy levels up, supports a healthy immune system and is important for the growth and development of children. 

In a recent Instagram Live event, we were joined by Associate Registered Nutritionist Jo from Beef and Lamb to answer your questions on how you can increase the intake of Iron for yourself and your family members.

So whether you are looking for ways to boost your child’s iron intake or want to make sure you are getting enough yourself, read on to read Jo’s expert advice. 

Q: What can i do if my iron is low but supplements don’t seem to make a difference? 

A: Iron deficiency is common in NZ women, and it can be hard to feel your best when you have symptoms of iron deficiency especially if you’re pregnant or looking after little ones.

Try to include iron-rich foods (lean red meat, mussels, tofu, lentils etc) into your weekly diet along with vitamin C rich foods to boost your iron intake up. 

If you are having trouble with supplements we would recommend going back to your GP for other options, and for specialised nutrition advice see a Registered Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist

Q: How can i safely maintain healthy iron levels whilst breastfeeding? I take a daily prescribed iron supplement but whenever I’m pregnant or breastfeeding i still end up needing regular transfusions. This Mumma is fed up of feeling faint and fatigued! 

A: During pregnancy you need more iron (27mg/day), compared to a non-pregnant female (18mg/day). While breastfeeding this requirement drops down to 9-10mg/ day because baby now has their own iron stores.

If you need regular iron transfusions, it’s best to see your GP and find out whether there needs to be any further investigation as iron deficiency can also be a sign of other conditions.

Q: How can you tell if you’re low in Iron other than blood tests at a GP? 

A: The signs and symptoms of low iron or iron deficiency can sometimes be hard to distinguish from being busy, stressed, or just life as a parent, and the only way to be sure is to get a blood test via your GP. 

Some of the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency are:

  • Feel tired or lethargic 
  • Often grumpy or irritable
  • Get sick often 
  • Feel the cold easily
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Pale gums and/or skin
  • Dizzy spells or headaches 
  • Feeling breathless/short of breath

There are also different levels of low iron:

  • Low iron/iron depletion 
  • Iron deficiency
  • Iron deficiency anaemia 

Q: How can i tell if my child is iron deficient? 

A: Some of the symptoms of iron deficiency in babies and toddlers are:

  • Recurrent infections 
  • Grumpy and irritable 
  • Tired and lethargic 
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Pale skin 
  • Feels the cold 
  • Reduced appetite 
  • Reduced weight gain 
  • Digestive problems 

The only way to find out if your child is iron deficient is to see a GP for an assessment and blood test.  

Q: How can i prepare meat for my baby. Doing a mix of BLW & puree but blending meat goes gross. 

A: If you are preparing meat for your own dinner set some aside before you add any spices or flavourings. Puree up the cooked meat with some cooked vegetables or fruit to create a meal for baby.

Cooked tofu, beans or lentils, spinach and silverbeet all contribute to their iron intake too – every little bit counts so add it in where you can!

Remember, what might be gross for you, might not be for baby 😊 Baby picks up cues from those eating around them, so allow them to try all foods. 😊  It can take up to 15 tries before your child accepts new foods.

Q: Grated liver in other food eg vegetable puree – how much should i put in every week if main source of iron? 

A: Grating a small piece of frozen liver into a vegetable puree is an easy way to get some iron into your baby or toddler’s meals, however you do need to be a little bit careful with the amount. Liver is really high in vitamin A and this can be harmful to babies if they have too much. So, limit liver to no more than 15 grams per week. Also try to include a range of other iron-rich foods throughout the day.

Q: I know babies need a lot of Iron. How do i know if what i’m feeding is adequate? I’m not wanting to five iron fortified cereals. Wanting to do it through food for better absorption. 

A: You’re right, babies need a lot of iron to make sure they are growing and developing at a normal rate. A 7month old baby actually needs more iron than their Dad.

If you’re providing iron-rich foods throughout the day, and across the week and your baby is happy and healthy, they should be getting enough iron. 

(check out the other answers for ideas for iron-rich foods)

Q: What are some simple was to increase iron levels while pregnant? 

A: Grating some frozen liver (for easier handling) into meals to increase iron (limit liver and kidney to 100g per week and avoid pate during pregnancy)

  • Try not to drink tea or coffee with meals – these inhibit iron absorption 
  • Try to eat around 3 portions of lean red meat per week
  • Eat a variety of foods from all food groups to nourish yourself and baby
  • Try to avoid having dairy products and iron-rich foods together in one meal as calcium competes for absorption with iron
  • Eat an iron-fortified breakfast cereal – e.g. wheat biscuits 
  • If you feel like something sweet after dinner opt for citrus fruits, strawberries or kiwifruit which are high in vitamin C and will help to absorb iron from your dinner 

Q: Can babies have iron supplements? 

A: Iron supplements aren’t normally recommended for babies unless they are clinically iron deficient, which is determined by a blood test and assessment via your GP.

Full term and healthy babies will have enough iron to last them through until around 6 months old – which is when they would be starting complementary solids alongside their milk feeds.

Pre-term babies or low birth weight babies may need an iron supplement as they are often born with lower iron stores than full term babies, but toxicity or iron overload can occur so you should never give iron supplements to a baby that isn’t iron deficient or anaemic – always check with your GP first.

Q: How can i boost iron levels in a  5 year old who doesn’t like red meat?

  •  Red meat isnt the only source of iron. 😊 Seafood, and other meat such as chicken or pork also contain the highly absorbable form of iron. Other iron foods include tofu, eggs, lentils, chickpeas, silverbeet, spinach, fortified cereals and breads – it all adds up so try to add in some of these foods throughout the day.
  • Make sure plant-based forms of iron are eaten with vitamin C rich fruits or vegetables. E.g. A tofu stir-fry with carrots, capsicum and broccoli = Iron + Vitamin C
  • Eating a combination of animal and plant-based iron also increases absorption of iron so include a variety of foods from all food groups.
  • Try to avoid giving milk with iron-rich meals as the calcium in milk will compete for absorption with iron in the meal.

We hope this Q&A has helped you learn more about how to get more iron into your family’s diet.