A study published in the journal Pediatrics found an association between prolonged breastfeeding and low iron levels in children. For every month of breastfeeding the risk of iron deficiency anemia increased by 5 percent. Children who breastfed for more than 12 months had almost twice the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia compared to babies who nursed for less than 12 months. This should alert parents and health care providers to the importance of including iron sources in the diets of babies and young children.
In my experience, some older babies and even toddlers rely on breast milk for a major part of their nutritional needs. But breast milk has only trace amounts of iron. It makes sense that if breastfeeding children are not eating a variety of foods, then they may become deficient in iron. I am a firm believer in extended breastfeeding because of the tremendous advantages conferred by breast milk. It should also be noted that iron is absorbed as much as 50 times better from breast milk than from other dietary sources.
Testing For Anemia
Most pediatric providers routinely test for anemia in babies around 9 months of age because that is the time when a baby’s maternal stores of iron tend to become depleted. Providers may want to perform a blood test for hemoglobin and ferritin levels in older babies and toddlers who continue to breastfeed beyond 12 months, especially if parents report that children are relying on nursing and not very interested in other foods.
Feed Foods High In Natural Iron
- green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, peas),
- prunes, and
- egg yolks.
Use organic sources whenever possible. A good way to get babies and toddlers to eat green foods is in soups and stews.
Foods High In Vitamin C
- bell peppers
and other sources of vitamin C is a good idea at meal time (or snack time).
Using Cast Iron As A Source Of Dietary Iron
Using cast iron cookware will also provide a source of dietary iron.
An excellent and easily absorbed iron supplement is liquid Floradix for children over 12 months of age and Floravital (without honey) for babies younger than 12 months. This supplement can be utilized if iron levels are starting to decline as evidenced by a low hemoglobin, red blood cell, or ferritin level. Of course, a health care provider should monitor any child diagnosed with anemia, since anemia can cause delays in development if not adequately addressed.
SAFbaby Expert Health Advisor, Dr. Randall Neustaedter, OMD
Dr. Randall Neustaedter, OMD, has practiced and taught holistic medicine for more than thirty years in the San Francisco Bay area, specializing in child health care. He is a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese medicine, author of The Holistic Baby Guide, Child Health Guide, and The Vaccine Guide.
Visit his website, www.cure-guide.com, to register for a free newsletter with pediatric specialty articles. Office visits and Skype consultations are available by appointment.
Maguire JL, Salehi L, et al. Association Between Total Duration of Breastfeeding and Iron Deficiency. Pediatrics. Published online April 15, 2013 ahead of print.