Iron: an essential nutrient for your baby

Child eating cereal

Iron is a nutrient we hear quite a bit about but it’s not one which most of us actively think about in our diets. Pregnant women have their iron levels checked. Why? Low iron in pregnancy can increase the risk of pre term birth and of having a baby with a low birth weight. Mum’s need to have enough iron to make their own blood and also baby’s.

Why do we need iron?

Iron is needed to make haemoglobin which is part of the red blood cells. We need our red blood cells to carry oxygen around of bodies. Not enough iron can lead to anaemia. Signs of anaemia include tiredness, having a lack of energy, being short of breath, having pale skin and noticeable heart palpitations.

After birth, women lose quite a lot of blood, even after an uncomplicated birth so it is important to replenish those stores and help wounds heal.

Babies are born with iron stores to get them through the first 6 months, thanks to their mum, but after that they need to get it from their food.

It’s so important we know which foods contain iron to start introducing them to baby in the early stages of weaning, and to know to include them in our own diets.

Which foods are good for iron?

Here are some examples:

Fortified breakfast cereals – these are cereals which have iron added to them. Check the ingredients list. Organic products won’t be fortified with iron as it is against organic certification rules so look for a regular product.

Liver – its not number one on the menu for many people and it should be avoided by pregnant women due the high levels of vitamin A it contains but it is a good source of iron

Red meat – there has been lots of negative press about red meat but red meat is a good source of iron. Choose options which have not been processed so a beef steak or mince rather than a bought burger

Oily fish – fish like sardines and mackerel don’t have as much iron as red meat but they do still contain a good amount. They have lots of nutritional benefits so are a great addition to the diet. Women of childbearing age and girls should not have more than 2 portions a week.

Nuts – some nuts like almonds are a good source of iron. Children under 5 should avoid whole nuts but nut butters (without added oil/salt/sugar) or ground nuts are a good option.

Pulses – beans, peas and lentils are a vegetarian source of iron. Soak them and rinse them beforehand to help improve the absorption of the iron

Green leafy veg have a small amount of iron but don’t have much.

How to get the most out of your food

How much iron our bodies can get out of our food depends on lots of things. Try to have your foods with lots of iron at the same time as foods which have vitamin C in them eg oranges, peppers, carrots, broccoli.

Try not to have them at the same time as tea (because of the tannins) or dairy products (because of the calcium).

Soak your pulses before cooking and rinse them before soak, after soaking and before cooking. Rinse tinned pulses too.

There are other things which affect absorption but these are the key ones we can do something about.

What next?

If you want more support making sure your family gets the nutrition they need, why not get in touch

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