Iron and Your Child
Ever wonder why so many cereals and infant formulas are fortified with iron? Iron is a nutrient that's needed to make hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of red blood cells (RBCs).
Red blood cells circulate throughout the body to deliver oxygen to all its cells. Without enough iron, the body can't make enough RBCs, and tissues and organs won't get the oxygen they need. So it's important for kids and teens to get enough iron in their daily diets.
How Much Iron Do Kids Need?
Kids require different amounts of iron at various ages and stages. Here's how much they should be getting as they grow:
- Infants who breastfeed tend to get enough iron from their mothers until 4-6 months of age, when iron-fortified cereal is usually introduced (although breastfeeding moms should continue to take prenatal vitamins). Infants who are formula-fed should get iron-fortified formula.
- Infants ages 7-12 months need 11 milligrams of iron a day. Babies younger than 1 year should be given iron-fortified cereal in addition to breast milk or an infant formula supplemented with iron.
- Kids ages 1-12 years old need 7-10 milligrams of iron each day.
- Adolescent boys should be getting 11 milligrams of iron a day and adolescent girls should be getting 15 milligrams. (Adolescence is a time of rapid growth and teen girls need additional iron to replace what they lose monthly when they begin menstruating.)
- Young athletes who regularly engage in intense exercise tend to lose more iron and may require extra iron in their diets.
What's Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency (when the body's iron stores are becoming depleted) can be a problem for some kids, particularly toddlers and teens (especially girls who have very heavy periods). In fact, many teenage girls are at risk for iron deficiency — even if they have normal periods — if their diets don't contain enough iron to offset the loss of iron-containing RBCs during menstrual bleeding. Also, teen athletes lose iron through sweating and other routes during intense exercise.
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