Keeping Kids Healthy Advice
Iron is a mineral that the body uses to make hemoglobin, which is a pigment in the blood that carries oxygen to every part of the body. If the body does not get enough iron, then hemoglobin production decreases and this affects the production of red blood cells. A less than normal amount of hemoglobin and red blood cells in the bloodstream is known as anemia.
Children are at a higher risk for anemia during rapid growth periods, such as infancy and adolescence, as well as children between 1 and 3 years because toddlers stop drinking formula and eating infant cereal, which are fortified with iron.
Formula-fed Infants should always take iron-fortified formula, except in rare cases of iron-metabolism defects (which needs to be diagnosed by a doctor). Switching from formula or breast milk to whole milk too soon (before the child turns 1) can put a child at risk for iron-deficiency anemia.
Anemia develops slowly, so those suffering from it don’t show any signs or symptoms at first. Signs of anemia will slowly progress and include:
fatigue and weakness
pale skin and mucous membranes
decrease in appetite
dizziness or lightheadedness
Iron-deficiency anemia is often diagnosed during a routine exam, such as your child’s yearly check-up. Your child may need blood tests to determine iron-deficiency anemia. These test include a complete blood count to reveal low hemoglobin levels and hematocrit (which is the percentage of the blood that is made up of red blood cells); the reticulocyte count, which measures the number of immature red blood cells being produced; serum iron, which measure the amount of iron in the blood; serum ferritin, which determines the body’s iron stores.
Most cases of iron-deficiency anemia are due to low dietary iron intake, but changes in diet and use of multivitamins with iron aren’t usually enough to replenish iron stores, so your child’s doctor may prescribe a separate daily iron supplement. Iron supplements should not be given to your child without consulting your doctor first. Too much iron is can poison your child.
Iron is absorbed best when taken on an empty stomach, but it can occasionally cause stomachache. Children that have stomach pain when taking iron supplements may need to take them with a small amount of food, but iron should never be given with milk or drinks that contain caffeine because their ingredients interfere with iron absorption. Vitamin C has been shown to increase iron absorption, so including plenty of sources of Vitamin C in your child’s diet is a good idea.
Your child’s doctor may want to repeat blood tests after a month to see if iron levels have improved. If your child responds well to treatment, the doctor may continue the supplement for several months. Once the iron levels return to a normal level, they can be maintained by providing your child with an iron-rich diet. Your doctor may want to recheck your child’s iron levels about 6 months after your child stops the supplement therapy.