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Pump Up The Iron

Newborns may be helpless creatures, but most have no trouble pumping iron into their diet. For the first four to six months, babies can tap their own natural stores for all the iron they need. Soon after, solid foods, iron-fortified formula, or an iron supplement (for breastfeeding or preterm babies) usually takes up the slack.

Nine percent of children between 12 and 36 months, however, are iron-deficient, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If your baby isn't getting enough iron (pediatricians order a routine blood test between 9 and 12 months), don't panic and start force-feeding iron-rich foods, says Susan Moores, M.S., R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. This isn't necessary and, at high levels, can even be toxic. Simply choosing different foods should do the trick.

How much is enough?

Babies only need 6 to 10 milligrams of iron daily. That's equal to three servings of iron-fortified cereal a day or a jar of baby food with meat and vegetables. In addition, offering foods high in vitamin C  -- such as fortified apple juice or a jar of mashed bananas  -- will improve the absorption of iron found in fruits, vegetables, breads, and cereals. Some other good choices for introducing a little more iron:

  • Legumes  -- mashed peas, lentils, or soybeans

  • Squash or sweet potatoes

  • Iron-fortified bread (for older babies with teeth)

  • Raisins (finely chopped, for older babies with teeth).
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