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5 Practical Ways to Increase Iron in Your Baby’s Diet

I mentioned in my last post (Does My Baby Get Enough Iron?) that I have been worrying about my 9-month-old’s iron nutrition.  Iron deficiency can cause lasting delays and deficits in cognitive and behavioral development, and I don’t want to go there.

First, let’s consider if your baby is actually at risk for iron deficiency, because why fret about something that isn’t a problem?  You have enough to worry about.

If your baby is less than 6 months of age, he probably has enough iron.   Babies are usually born with sufficient iron stores to last them for about the first 4-6 months of life.  There are some exceptions:  If your baby was born preterm or small for his age or if you have diabetes, he may have been born with lower iron stores, in which case your pediatrician will usually prescribe iron drops for your baby.  In addition to the iron your little one is using from his iron stores, he will also get some iron from breast milk or formula during the first six months.  Breast milk doesn’t contain much iron (see my post Why Is Breast Milk So Low in Iron?), but infants are very efficient at absorbing it.  If your baby is drinking iron-fortified formula, he is getting lots of additional iron.  There are some “low iron” formulas on the market, so make sure yours is not one of them.

Around 6 months of age, the iron stores are depleted, and your 6- to 12-month-old baby needs to be consuming about 11 mg of iron per day.  A formula-fed baby will continue to get lots of iron from formula, in addition to complementary foods.  However, if your baby is 6 months or older, mainly breastfed, and doesn’t eat at least two servings of fortified baby cereal or meat per day, he could be at risk for iron deficiency.  Toddlers (1-3 years) need 7 mg of iron per day.  Toddlers don’t require as much iron as babies, because toddlers don’t grow quite as fast.  If your toddler is consuming cow’s milk and not much in the way of iron-rich foods, he could still be at risk for iron deficiency.

At 9 months old, my BabyC falls into the “at-risk” category.  She is breast-fed, doesn’t like the baby cereals, and only eats a little bit of meat, so I set about trying to find other ways to sneak iron into her diet.  Here is what I found:

5 ways to increase iron in your baby’s diet:

1.  Love your fortified cereals!  BabyC won’t have anything to do with baby cereals (and I’ve tried several varieties), but she will eat some regular fortified oatmeal.  This doesn’t have as much iron as baby cereals, but it still gives her a nice dose.  Cream of Wheat and Malt-O-Meal are also good options.  Look for cereals that state in the Nutrition Facts label that they provide at least 45% of the daily value for iron.  Note that if the cereal is not made specifically for babies, this refers to the adult requirement and an adult-sized serving, but it is still an indicator that the cereal is fortified.  If your baby will eat dry cereals, such as Cheerios, these are usually fortified as well.  Unfortunately, many of the “natural” cereal brands are not fortified, so double-check the labels again for that 45% of daily value. [For lots more discussion of infant cereals, see my post: The Whole Truth About Infant Cereals: 7 Science-Based Tips.]

2.  Cook with fortified cereals.  I have made some delicious pancakes for BabyC using all of the many varieties of baby cereal that she has refused to eat the conventional way.  I used this recipe found at  The recipe makes about 24, 2-inch pancakes, and when you tally up the iron sources (baby cereal, flour, egg yolks), you end up with 1.25 mg iron per pancake.  Use water in the recipe instead of milk to avoid the inhibiting effect of dairy on iron absorption.  BabyC can easily eat 3-4 of these at breakfast (especially if they have blueberries!), and at that rate she’s already met almost half of her iron requirement.  I make a big batch and then freeze them in baggies of 3-4 so it is easy to pull out a serving to thaw.  I’m exploring other recipes that will turn fortified cereals into finger foods.  Next up is Malt-o-Meal muffins!  Also, consider mixing some baby cereal into savory foods like meatballs.

3.  Include a source of vitamin C.  Several studies have shown that including vitamin C in a baby’s meal can at least double the absorption of iron from cereals and legumes.  I give BabyC Tri-Vi-Sol drops  (or a generic version) at breakfast, which contain 35 mg of vitamin C.  Other baby-friendly sources of vitamin C include citrus, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, raspberries, broccoli, bell peppers, and potatoes.  BabyC loves those little Clementine oranges, and each of these contains about 36 mg of vitamin C.  Pair a good source of vitamin C with meals containing cereals and beans to maximize the iron your baby absorbs from those foods.

4.  Limit dairy with meals.  The calcium in cow’s milk inhibits iron absorption, so avoid feeding dairy with high-iron meals.  Instead, feed cheese and yogurt as a between-meal snack.  BabyC loves cheese, and the calcium is good for her, but separating it from a meal means that it is less likely to interfere with her iron absorption.  And above all, don’t give your baby cow’s milk before age 1 – stick with either breast milk or an iron-fortified formula.

5.  Introduce a variety of iron-rich foods, including grains, meats, beans, and veggies.  I know that BabyC isn’t going to get all of her iron from cereal, so I make sure that she has opportunities to eat a variety of iron sources throughout the day.  And remember that you may have to offer a food to your baby 5 or 6 times before he’ll really eat it, so keep trying.

The table below will give you some good ideas of iron-rich foods that you can incorporate into your baby’s diet.  Pay attention to the serving size in the table, and remember that all of the food sources of iron need to add up to 11 mg of iron per day for a 6- to 12-month-old baby or 7 mg for a 1- to 3-year-old toddler.

What are your baby’s favorite iron-rich foods?Slide1

Finger-Food-Friendly Sources of Iron

(all values are for cooked foods, except for preprepared foods like Cheerios and bread)

  Serving size Iron per serving (mg)
Animal Sources
Chicken liver 1 oz


Beef liver 1 oz


Sardines 1 oz


Ground beef 1 oz


Egg yolk 1 large (17 g)


Chicken thigh 1 oz


Chicken breast 1 oz


Baby cereal 5 Tbs


Fortified oatmeal 5 Tbs


Cheerios 1/4 cup (7 g)


Amaranth 1/4 cup


Quinoa 1/4 cup


Barley 1/4 cup


Pasta 1/4 cup


Wheat germ 1 Tbs


Whole wheat bread 1/2 slice


White beans 1/4 cup


Lentils 1/4 cup


Kidney beans 1/4 cup


Black beans 1/4 cup


Chick peas 1/4 cup


Tofu 1/4 cup


Spinach 1/4 cup


Green peas 1/4 cup


Kale 1/4 cup


Broccoli 1/4 cup


Green beans 1/4 cup


Values in this table were adapted from the USDA National Nutrient Database.

© Alice Callahan, PhD

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  1. Thanks for the great post, Alice. My little one is 7 months old, and the only thing he WILL eat is cereal! So we have the opposite challenge that you do – getting him turned on to some other good foods.


    September 1, 2011
  2. Hi Julian! They are all different, aren't they? Has your little guy gotten into finger foods at all? I think that was our big break-through with getting BabyC into eating. I think when they can feed themselves, they enjoy the eating experience a lot more, understandably. Hope you are enjoying fatherhood! Have you been able to get out and climb much since baby?


    September 1, 2011
  3. I have the same concern about W’s iron that you have about BabyC’s, and I have no idea what to do about it!! What about a 6-12mo who still uses nursing as a “primary” food (her choice, not mine), and doesn’t eat a ton of solid food? I offer it 3-5x a day, and she definitely enjoys picking at it and playing, but unless I were to feed her chunks of pure ferrous sulfate, there’d be no way she’d get enough solid food in her little body to hit that 11 mg per day. Which is why, actually, I posted the comment on your “Why Is Breast Milk Low In Iron” article about milk status if mama is supplementing.

    Cereals are a problem for us, since she’s going through a “me do it” phase right now with her eating, and will only eat things she can pick up herself (actually, she’s kind of going through a cheese phase right now, but that’s beside the point). Anyway, when I look at an iron foods chart like you’ve posted, it just makes me scared. I doubt she eats more than a few ounces of food a DAY, so I suspect we’re hovering around 2-3 mg of iron a day despite my best efforts to provide high-iron foods. Is there an iron supplement you’ve looked into for BabyC that you like?

    Liked by 1 person

    October 22, 2011
    • Hi Kirstin – How old is W? I was really worried about BabyC because she was doing the same thing as W between about 6 and 8 months. Around 8 months she really started eating more food but we were stuck working with finger food and some finickiness about texture, and by 9 months I think we were finally meeting her iron requirement. I tried giving her Pol-Vi-Sol with iron because that’s what we had around, but she hated it. Spit it out everywhere, which only succeeded in staining everything! You could ask your pediatrician about other formulations that maybe have better acceptability, but I think that much iron tastes gross no matter what you add to mask it. So anyway, we didn’t supplement, though I think on paper BabyC was at risk for iron deficiency. Her hemoglobin tested fine at her 9-month appt, though. Her pediatrician asked if I wanted to do the iron bloodwork (bc you can be iron-deficient without being anemic), but by that point I was starting to feel like her dietary iron was adequate, so I declined the blood draw. My pediatrician didn’t seem worried – I think I talked her ear off about it so much that she figured I was worrying enough for both of us.


      October 23, 2011
    • A few other thoughts…
      There is of course a lot of variability in terms of how long babies can last on their iron stores and how much iron they actually need. For example, baby boys who are growing fast have a higher requirement. BabyC was born big but grew slowly after the first couple of months, so I bet her requirement was actually lower than average.

      I should really write a post about how nutrient requirements are determined, because that is good perspective to have, too. For iron, the IOM calculated that babies need 0.69 mg ABSORBED iron per day to meet their needs for maintenance and growth. They assumed 10% absorption, so estimate that the AVERAGE baby needs 6.9 mg/d DIETARY iron. The recommended daily allowance is set at 11 mg/d and is what they calculated would be enough for 97.5% of all babies. Iron from breast milk is absorbed at a rate of 20-50% (data are really mixed on that, but absorption is probably higher in a baby like W who’s iron status may be getting a little low), heme iron from meat at 10-20%, nonheme iron from plants around 5%.

      So – supplement if you can get her to take it. Otherwise, use the strategies above and do the best you can. I recommend making pancakes or muffins with fortified baby cereal – BabyC LOVES those and she can eat them herself. Add some blackstrap molasses to boost the iron. Try cooking meats in a slow cooker so that they become tender and easy to eat. I also made meatballs and mixed some cereal into those. Egg yolks are a great source, and BabyC loved those. And legumes! And know that soon, she will start eating more and be able to eat more stuff as she gets more teeth, so it will get lots easier. Good luck!

      (PS – This is not medical advice:)


      October 23, 2011
  4. Sophie #

    Hi Alice,
    Thanks so much for all the very helpful information & tips! You mentioned that the calcium in cows’ milk can inhibit iron absorption. What about cows’ milk whey? I make my own yogurt from whole cows’ milk. After scooping out some yogurt from the container, the hole slowly fills with liquid, which I understand is whey. Sometimes I even strain my yogurt, which produces more refined liquid, or whey. I use the liquid (whey) instead of milk or water in my baby’s rice cereal. Does the whey inhibit my baby’s iron absorption?


    November 26, 2011
    • Hi Sophie,
      This is a great question. I had to do some research on whey to see if it would cause the same problems as whole cow’s milk. The whey that is a by-product of making yogurt is acid whey. Acid whey contains almost as much calcium as whole milk – about 32 mg/oz. Breast milk contains 10 mg Ca/oz, while most formulas contain around 16 mg/oz. The high calcium concentration in whey could certainly inhibit iron absorption from cereals for your baby. Whey is probably a slightly better choice than whole cows milk, however, because the casein in cow’s milk is also thought to inhibit iron absorption on its own. When you make yogurt, the casein proteins goes into your yogurt, and the liquid whey contains the remaining proteins. A 1989 study by Hurrell et al found that both the whey and casein fractions of cow’s milk decrease iron absorption in adults, but again, this is probably due to the high calcium concentration in acid whey.

      As a side note, sweet whey, which is a byproduct of making some cheeses (cheddar, swiss) is probably a pretty good addition to baby cereal, because it contains only 14.5 mg calcium/oz and of course, no casein proteins.

      I would steer clear of using acid whey to mix up your baby’s cereal for now, because you really want her to get the full benefit of the iron at this stage. Use expressed breast milk, formula, or water instead, or just mix the cereal into pureed foods.

      Thanks for the great question! I learned something new today thanks to you!


      November 29, 2011
      • Sophie #

        Dear Alice,
        Thank you for your very thorough response! I’m impressed by the details you provided, as well as the evidence you found. Now that I know acid whey contains so much good calcium, I’ll try harder to drink it instead of pouring it down the drain after I’ve strained my yogurt (of course at least several hours after I’ve taken my iron supplement ;-). Gratefully, Sophie


        February 6, 2012
      • mandi #

        Hi Alice, you are a great help as I am stressing out over the amount of iron my little girl should have. I am in Ireland and have looked at all the baby cereals in my press and in the entire box there is only 4mg. The box lasts a week! Do you know the names of any cereals that have high iron content? would appreciate it so much if you could tell me, I could maybe buy online.
        thanks a million


        November 24, 2013
        • Are you sure there’s only 4 mg in a box? It should be about that much in a serving. I can’t imagine that there isn’t fortified cereal available in Ireland. Have you asked your pediatrician? (I’m sure you can order some online, but I just can’t believe that there isn’t some available locally.) Let me know what you find out! If they aren’t selling fortified cereal in Ireland, I would be very interested in finding our why!


          November 25, 2013
          • Emma #

            I don’t know if Mandi was able to find iron fortified cereal, but I know on my recent trip to the UK with my then 8-month-old baby I wasn’t able to find many iron fortified cereals. Here in Australia you can easily get plain rice cereal with iron and then oatmeal in some shops, and some with fruit added, but in the UK these didn’t seem to exist. (And I didn’t pack any for our month away as I assumed it would be sold there!). There were some pre-made (i.e. including milk powder) cereals but that was all. I wondered if iron deficiency wasn’t seen to be a problem over there?


            May 19, 2014
  5. Thank you so much for your nutrition posts – they are covering the main things I worry about and can’t seem to get concrete answers for on the internet (and I’m not a scientist!).

    I wanted to ask you a question following your advice on combining iron and vitamin C intake: My toddler is 24 months old and a very fussy eater. Although we offer them every day in a variety of ways, he doesn’t willingly eat any vegetables, legumes or meat/fish (I say willingly because I sneak purees in his morning yogurt). Since realizing that Cheerios are quite high in iron I have been giving him a cup or so of those for snacks every day, but now I am wondering if he gets enough vitamin C for maximum iron absorption.

    Most days he would eat around a cup of berries (he loves blueberries in particular) and he also eats some dried apple and raisins and some pear puree. Would this provide sufficient vitamin C, even if the fruits are eaten at different times to the Cheerios but during the same day?

    Actually, another question I would love to put to you: What are your views on multivitamin supplements for kids? My bub’s pediatrician recommends daily probiotics, fish oil and vitamin D on an ongoing basis, and the probiotics and fish oil definitely make sense to me. However, my concern with the vitamin D and with general multivitamins is that he might already be getting sufficient doses from his food (or the sun when it comes to D). If so, is there a risk (or potential risk – do we know for sure?) of adverse side effects (in the short or long term) of getting too much of any particular nutrients?

    Calcium is another individual supplement I have considered giving Jacob because he doesn’t eat much dairy, but again I am really wary of supplementing without knowing that he has a deficiency.

    Any thoughts on these questions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!!



    April 6, 2012
  6. Tiffany #

    I would like to thank you for your post. My daughter’s one year old bloodwork came back showing that she is low in iron. She was exclusively breastfed for over 9 months. At 9 months, her rate of growth seemed to slow down so our pediatrician had me supplement with formula. So, I was surprised to find out that she was still low in iron anyway! We are supplementing with ferrous sulfate, and I am trying my best to get her to eat anything with iron. This is quite a difficult task with new picky behavior and rejection of all baby cereals. I will try your recipe suggestions!


    September 24, 2012
  7. Tamara in NZ #

    I live in New Zealand and while our babies are not tested routinely for anemia we are advised to supplement. I supplemented with lamb livers. For example I ground small amounts into meatballs. I see lamb liver is not in your table above. Do you know how it rates?


    September 25, 2012
  8. pradnya #

    good suggestion from you i really lyk it..i will do it for my baby


    October 10, 2012
  9. desiree #

    my baby 7mons old is also low in i look in internet what i must give food for her that rich in iron that good at her thankful to see those food that rich in starting tomorrow i will going to give those foods and we will see what will be the changes.more power…


    November 13, 2012
  10. I blog quite often and I genuinely thank you for your content.
    Your article has truly peaked my interest. I’m going to book mark your website and keep checking for new information about once per week. I subscribed to your RSS feed too.


    November 16, 2012
  11. jess #

    These serving sizes seem a little big for babies…are you certain this information pertains to them?


    January 21, 2013
  12. Wow, wonderful tidbits of info! Thank you so much for your thorough research and then sharing it with others. So much great tidbits and suggestions in one spot. I especially identified with the cereal frustration. My 12 month old has never liked baby cereal and now she is anemic. I was given the drops today, but the idea of the pancakes was brilliant.

    Also, I know that most babes are not going to have this problem, but I also know that black tea and green tea can prevent iron absorption. Our family drinks a lot of unsweetened ice tea and we let our 12 month old sip on it as well. Hoping this might be one of the culprits that is causing the anemia. That could be an easy fix.

    Again, thanks!


    May 17, 2013
  13. Donna #

    Hi guys, my baby Derick has been diagnosed to have iron deficiency anemia. This maybe because he doesn’t want to eat nutritious foods and he rely to much on milk. He is 1 year and 9 months now and I’m so worried… 😦


    June 11, 2013
  14. I’ll share the info that I have learned in this article to my cousin who has a 7-month old baby. She started feeding him with solid foods.


    July 3, 2013
  15. Michelle #

    Hi, can I please make mention that Minerals such as iron are present in lower quantities in breast milk than in formula. However, the minerals in breast milk are more completely absorbed by the baby. In formula-fed babies, the unabsorbed portions of minerals can change the balance of bacteria in the gut, which gives harmful bacteria a chance to grow. This is one reason why bottle-fed babies generally have harder and more odorous stools than breastfed babies. Just want to point out that formula feeding will not result in higher iron absorption.


    October 1, 2013
    • I agree with you. I didn’t say that formula feeding results in higher absorption; I said that formula-fed babies are at lower risk for iron deficiency, because they get plenty of iron in fortified formula. You’re right that the iron in formula isn’t absorbed as easily as that in breast milk – it’s absorbed similarly to how iron in plants like grains and spinach is absorbed. But formula has enough iron in it that even with low absorption rates, formula-fed babies rarely become iron deficient. There may be some truth to the idea that the unabsorbed iron in formula can cause some problems (I’m not convinced one way or another yet, but it’s an area that I’m watching), but so can iron deficiency (and I am convinced of that).


      October 2, 2013
  16. My little is of 16 months suffering from iron deficiency anaemia n does not take any thing to eat hapilly can u help me plz what can I give her n how


    November 11, 2013
  17. Liz #

    Just wanted to say thank you for the answer to my own question which I found in the comments. Your advice to avoid dairy with infant cereal seemed odd since breastmilk is such a common thing to add. However, I didn’t consider that the breast milk might be lower in calcium than cow’s milk.


    January 3, 2014
  18. Eli #

    Firstly, thanks a bunch for doing all this research, its so rare to see anyone reporting on peer reviewed research, rather than a Chinese whispers of old house wife tales and single experiences. I do have a question, relating to coffee and tea, but to understanding breastfeeding in general.
    If baby Feeds every four hours, can mummy have a cup of tea or coffee without effecting iron absorption, if she has it straight after a feed? But more generally, how does it work with breastmilk? Do the things i eat and drink go in and out of the milk e.g. If i have a glass of wine or a coffee after a feed, does it go in to the milk but then back out again before the four hours is up? If so, how does this reflect on how i time my meals and breastfeeding, e.g. Should i try and eat 1 hr before a feed to ensure maximum transmission of nutrients? Thanks again


    March 4, 2014
    • I’ve never seen information in the scientific literature about phytate passing into breast milk, but I also haven’t researched this question specifically. My best guess, off-hand, is that it isn’t a problem. Caffeine and alcohol – yes – those will pass into your breast milk according to the blood levels. I don’t know about the timing off-hand – it’s a great question!


      March 7, 2014
  19. Thanks so much for this! 🙂 I’ve been a bit concerned about my bub’s diet (he’s just turned 6 months) and am looking at raising him meat free for the first year, but was really concerned about the iron intake. Really glad that there are cereals and veggies with high iron as well – and who knows, I might cave and give him a bit of meat by 9 months.


    March 4, 2014
  20. Stef #

    That’s an amazing insight, practical and logical! Thank you for your time and effort to set out facts so clearly. I’m forwarding your iron series posts to all my mom friends – and not only 🙂

    Thanks to you I learned about amaranth, I hadn’t got a clue before. I also bought it and I introduced to my 6 1/2 months baby as one of his first foods. So far he seems to accept anything I feed him by spoon – he may occasionally play with apple cores or chips but that’s not a reliable way for him to get nutrients, I see that.

    My concern / question is about amaranth, how did you prepare it for your baby girl?
    The only thing I could come up with was to make it into some kind of porridge to try it my self and truth be told, the smell and taste is really off 😦 A few days later, I decided I’ll try it anyway on my baby and I made it into a porridge, cooking it together with apple and pear cubes and adding one teaspoon of sugar.
    The second time I made it, I simmered the amaranth & apple cubes & prunes & dried figs – we had an issue with constipation and I even froze leftovers. The dried fruits definitely helped with the sweetness but the result is not as palatable as I’d wish.


    March 10, 2014
    • Amy #

      I’ve done amaranth porridge in coconut milk with some cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, and that was pretty good. I served it with strawberries.


      April 25, 2014
    • alohaamy #

      This morning I made my daughter a amaranth coconut porridge. I cooked the amaranth in a mixture of coconut milk and water, and spiced it with cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. That tasted far better than the plain one I’d made previously.I served it with strawberries since they’re in season now and we had them in the house. I bet it would be really good with mango, though.

      Teff is another iron-rich whole grain. I find that it tastes a lot better than amaranth -more like cream of wheat.


      April 25, 2014
  21. Suditie #

    My baby is two yr n 21 days old. Her hb level is 6 which is very low. She doesn’t eat food at all bt want only milk when she feels hungry. Not even fond if any cereal, juices, fruits but love chocolates n candies. Dr has advised to give her victofol tonic. I am also started giving her bevon multivitamin tonic. Also give her sometime himalya septilin for cough and immune system.

    Pld advice what shud I do…..iI am really worried. Or any good finger food recipe.


    April 19, 2014
  22. alohaamy #

    Thank you for the insightful article!

    I have a question about the interaction of calcium and iron intake. I have read some articles that indicate that the impact of calcium on iron intake is only a short-term effect, and that the body compensates for it (Lönnerdal, 2010, for example). Have you found other research opposed to that? Do you believe that it is dependent on the amount of calcium, and do you know if it has the same impact on both the heme and non-heme iron? Really I want to know if I need to stop putting parmesan cheese on meatballs. 🙂


    April 25, 2014
  23. sonya #

    Excellent info and research! One of my 14 mo old twins has PICA and is eating and swallowing tons of paper… any paper, cardboard, TP, mail, toddler board books etc… anything he can get his hands on. He already has reflux and gags easily (and throws up frequently -usually about 1x per day. -when he is sick, etc it can be 2-3 x per day), but this paper thing is making it worse… he will gag on paper and throw up.
    So, I have been reading and one of the causes may be iron deficiency. I am sure that is it… or at least one of the probs, bc: 1) he is growing faster than his brother -about 3 in taller already
    2) he has always thrown up more easily for many many reasons and then all the good food he has eaten is gone.
    3) then he is hungry again -of course b/c he’s thrown it up… but usually can’t stomach more food since his tummy is sensitive from throwing up, so we do more milk. we transitioned at 1yr and 2 mos to goat milk.
    4) so, he’s getting likely a lot more milk than recommended, but he’s still growing and fairly healthy…
    for the last month or so his pica has been getting worse. he spends so much time eating anything paper around. I won’t even realize there is paper until I see that he has found it and is devouring it. It’s past ridiculousness.
    What do you think and recommend? Iron supplements?
    Any and all help you can provide would be wonderful!
    I am at a loss and sick of the throwing up and frustrated and very very tired! THANK YOU!


    June 7, 2014
    • sonya #

      you might be interested *or not* in an update… July 18 I finally changed my baby’s milk from goat milk to cashew milk and overnight he stopped throwing up!!! It was a miracle! he had been allergic to the goats milk and so progressively getting worse.
      however, I had already made an appointment with our pediatrician for a check up. I took him in on 7/31 and he had been doing SOOO MUCH better than he was on July 18th. Well… the Dr did a Hgb check.
      the results??? 3.2!!!!! Normal is 10-12 and 3.2 is VERY VERY CRITICAL low.
      so, we had to take him in and get a blood transfusion and now he is on 60mg of iron for 3 months.
      After the blood transfusion, his hgb came up to 5.9 and then a couple weeks of iron his Hgb was 8.9 and then now 9.8…
      moral of the story… if your child EVER has PICA and is eating tons of something NON food… in our case, paper, books, cardboard boxes, etc…. go and get the Hgb checked (this reflects the babies iron or lack of)
      Also, don’t be afraid to change milks… try something different. We found some wonderful (very expensive) cashew milk at the farmers market and this was the answer.
      now, our problem for both twins is to get them to drink less milk. we are adding water to their milk, but need to switch them to cups/sippy cups etc. Any ideas?

      If you feel like your baby needs more iron… get their Hgb checked with a routine well child check up. I was afraid I could overdose him on iron… b/c the recommended for 4 yrs and up is 10mg. but really now he is having to catch up and is on 60mg of iron per day.

      I read so many places that it was normal for kids to chew on books, but I didn’t *feel* that his chewing was normal… but since I am a new mom, you try to follow the balance of not making a big deal over everything with not really knowing and actually making a big deal of things! sometimes you cannot win!

      anyway, maybe someone will learn from our experiences and be able to intervene sooner or avoid what we went through! I can tell you it was an overwhelming and exhausting experience.


      August 26, 2014
  24. Laurie #

    I am so grateful for your site and for your wonderful articles. They’ve been succinct, well-researched, and helpful. I’m wondering if you have any information about why the iron stores might be depleting after six months. I found very conflicting information about that, and it doesn’t seem like it’s completely true. I’d love to know more especially from a scientific standpoint to make sure that that really is the case.

    I’ve also been reading that consuming iron fortified food or iron supplements can interfere with the baby’s ability to absorb iron from breastmilk. I wonder if you’ve come across this as well?


    July 2, 2014
    • Hi Laurie –
      Basically, a baby is born with a certain endowment of iron, and how much depends on factors like body size, mom’s iron status and health, whether or not baby was full-term, and timing of cord clamping. Baby needs a little iron each day for growth and development. Breast milk contains a small amount of iron, and it’s well-absorbed, but it simply isn’t enough to meet the baby’s daily requirement, so that stores make up the difference. When the stores start to run low depends on how much baby had at birth and how quickly she’s growing, but for most babies this will happen around 6 months. For some, it could happen as early as 3 months, and for others, it might not happen until later in the first year. There’s a lot of variability there, which is why lots of babies can be exclusively breastfed beyond 6 months and be just fine, while others will become iron-deficient.

      There are a few studies that have found that iron absorption efficiency from breast milk is decreased with the introduction of solid foods or supplements. However, if a baby is deficient in iron, even the best absorption from breast milk won’t meet her requirement, so solids or supplements may be necessary. However, this is good reason not to introduce solids before baby is really ready to eat them. Hope this helps!


      July 8, 2014
  25. Annie #

    Thanks for this article, it’s very thorough! I am now completely freaked out that my small 11 month old daughter isn’t getting enough Iron because I frequently give her meals containing cheese. She does like eggs, and I was heartened to see that on the list of high iron foods. However, when I googled it, I saw that eggs have been pinpointed as a specific iron-blocking food. Is it something in the egg whites that inhibits absorption, or should eggs be avoided altogether? Is there any way to know if she is already suffering from an asymptomatic iron deficiency?


    July 18, 2014
    • Hi Annie – Ask your daughter’s pediatrician about screening her for iron deficiency; most do it as a standard practice between 9 and 12 months, and your daughter’s doc can help you evaluate her diet as well. Eggs are interesting. There is some evidence that eggs can inhibit iron absorption, but this is thought to be specific to egg white protein. You can get around this by just feeding the yolk, which is where the most important nutrients for a baby are anyway (fats, choline, cholesterol). Thanks for the great question!


      July 20, 2014
      • Annie #

        Thanks for the detailed response! I know that Dr. Google is a bad influence, but I can’t help it sometimes. I find myself so worried about getting enough calories into her that I often overlook specific nutrients. Her blood work at the one-year appointment did not indicate iron deficiency, so I will just keep on doing what I am doing. Thanks!


        August 26, 2014
  26. I love the idea of feeding sardines to my 15 month old! I’m imagining his reaction and it’s making me excited for lunch time tomorrow 🙂 I’ve been so focused on the protein category for my son that I haven’t given much thought to his iron consumption. Thanks for all the helpful information!


    July 28, 2014
  27. Kathryn #

    I wonder for picky eaters if it wouldn’t be easier to supplement with a good gentle iron supplement…? My oldest son was diagnosed with anemia as a toddler and after prescription iron wasn’t working quickly enough I found Floradix Iron+herbs at the health food store. It actually tastes decent and is in a vitamin c enriched juice blend. His anemia reversed after being on the Floradix. I also took it in my pregnancy when I was anemic. I now have a 9 month old picky eater who will only eat a tiny bit of oatmeal cereal and a tiny bite of this or that during the day. He’s still breastfeeding, and I will ask his Dr to do a blood work up at his check up.


    August 21, 2014
  28. Teresa #

    What about these articles that say baby cereal is bad for baby?


    October 2, 2014
  29. Libby #

    I have a 9 month old son who was born at 35 weeks, and has down syndrome. He is exclusively breast fed, and doesn’t eat any solids…he is not interested at all, but even if he was, he doesn’t sit up yet so we worry about him choking if he were to try solids. At his 9 month exam, he was shown to have anemia from low iron. My pediatrician wasn’t very helpful. I want to give him something…anything to help! I know there are iron drops that I can give him, but I don’t want to just give him any brand. Can you recommend any? Help please!


    October 3, 2014
    • I recommend talking to your pediatrician again, or finding a new one. If he’s anemic, then that needs to be corrected, and in his case, a supplement is the way to do that. But you should absolutely have your pediatrician’s support in supplementing and monitoring for improvement, so demand that!


      October 3, 2014
  30. Vidya #

    Great article ! Thanks for the well researched information.

    Just wanted to mention the nutritive value of spices. Your article inspired me to look up some foods in the USDA database. According to what I saw, both cumin and turmeric are excellent sources of iron. Don’t know about the bioavailability though.

    Where my family comes from, a traditional first food (and comfort food) is rice and lentils that are seasoned with turmeric, salt, and butter. Unlike some traditions, this actually makes sense 🙂

    Thanks again for your well written, well researched information.


    October 24, 2014
  31. dora #

    Hello. My 9 month old H.O isn’t quite at 11mg. I took him to WIC today and I was told he is anemic. 10.3 mg. I recently switched from formula to cows milk because formula is really expensive and WIC doesn’t give enough cans to last him the whole month. I was just wondering what are your thoughts on this? Maybe i can just increase his iron with solid foods such as the ones you mentioned above. H.O loveeessss food. He literally eats anything i give him. Although a few days ago his appitite decreased a significant amount since he had an ear infection and was very feverish. He hasnt been eating as much since. Also, I started my daughter on cow’s milk at 9 months as well and she is 6 years old now and health wise doing well. I was never told she was anemic.


    October 29, 2014
    • It sounds like your baby’s hemoglobin was 10.3 g/dL, below the threshold of 11 g/dL for anemia. (This is different from the 11 mg of daily iron intake suggested for this age group – but I can see how you might get those confused!) It is recommended to wait until 12 months to switch to cow’s milk, mainly because of the iron issue. Cow’s milk is not only very low in iron but it also inhibits your baby’s absorption of iron from food sources – sort of a double whammy. Formula, on the other hand, is fortified to contain lots of iron. I know it is expensive, but I would stick with formula as much as possible, while also working on incorporating lots of iron-rich foods. If you baby loves solid foods, you may be able to feed more solids + the formula you get from WIC and make it work. Talk with your pediatrician more about the anemia to ensure that you get good follow-up and maybe discuss the possibility of using a supplement if necessary. I would definitely address the anemia though – it’s a serious health problem! Best of luck with your little one:)


      October 29, 2014
  32. akshatha nayak #

    hi.what can i use in pancakes instead of egg yolks


    November 28, 2014
  33. K Lin #

    different bioavailability between liver and fortified iron or plant sources.. don’t just follow the mg numbers.


    January 19, 2015
  34. Mariann #

    Would it be possible to have a photo added to this post so that it is “pin-able” for pinterest? I’d love to put it on my foods-for-baby board!


    January 25, 2015
  35. Tonya Sanders #

    hi my granddaughter went to her doctors appt. last week and they gave her 3 shots, well just today the doctors office called my daughter and told her that my granddaughters iron is 8 and it should be @ 12 she’s 10 months old, it’s so hard to get her to eat, we make her a formula bottle and add baby cereal to it because that’s pretty much all she will eat, and she started taking it like that in the past month and a half. I bought some broccoli last month to try on her, she will eat just a couple of baby spoons of it every now and then no more. She doesn’t like baby food in the jar. And she seems to only maybe one cereal bottle a day. she was born with an infection she caught in the womb and in the umbilical cord. They haven’t told my daughter if anything is still there, but they did say when she was born her iron was low because my daughters iron was low and she was breastfeeding, and she was small when she was born. she looks like a baby who’s eating good, but in reality she’s just wanting the milk cereal bottle once a day (that she just started drinking not long ago. I read in previous post about giving the baby meat, what kind? and her 1 tooth is just trying to come through in the past 6 days.(this is her first tooth). we are lost for answers. please help.


    January 29, 2015
    • A few thoughts… Did the pediatrician recommend an iron supplement? Have you tried letting her feed herself finger foods? Many babies are ready for that by this age and enjoy this more than spoon-feeding. You don’t want to force spoon-feeding as that may make her dislike it even more. For meats, any kind is really a good choice – beef, chicken, even fish.


      January 29, 2015
  36. Sandeep Hegde #

    Very useful one thanks for posting


    February 9, 2015
  37. Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article.

    Many thanks for supplying this information.


    May 29, 2015
  38. Sundra #

    Can not get 2 year old to eat veggies or fruit. Will not chew vitamin.
    How can I get those in him?


    May 29, 2015
  39. Anya #

    Alice, I just re-read this very helpful article as we’re in the early stages of the solid food journey with our second baby, now almost 8 months old. I am mainly following Ellyn Satter’s book and Jude Blereau’s “Whole Food For Children”. This time around I have not introduced commercial baby cereals and have been focusing on vegetables and nutrient-dense food like avocado, bone broth, liver, and egg yolk. I see in your table that cereals seem far superior to even the nutrient-dense foods in terms of iron content. But what about assimilation efficiency? Is iron in cereals as bioavailable as it is in whole foods?


    August 24, 2015
  40. Candice #

    I love this!! My little one has critically low iron and on the verge of needing transfusions. She has to give three tubes of blood every 6 weeks is why i think she is low. Her oncologist thinks its her milk consumption. So instead of milk we have switched to soy or almond and she don’t know the difference. I have been looking for iron rich foods and their value!! Ty so much! 💖💖💖


    September 21, 2015
  41. Marisol #

    Send me info on nutrition for my 2 year old please


    October 3, 2015
  42. Indu jain #

    My baby age is 1y1month doc told me that ur son blood level is low.. U need to give iron in his diet.i want to know what should I do.


    October 6, 2015
  43. Sarah #

    Thanks for the article and information. My LO was “fairly anemic” at his 12 month check and when we rechecked two days ago, his iron was even lower! After a month of OTC iron drops and regular consumption of iron rich foods! No one mentioned that iron and dairy don’t mix; my mom just ran across this article today. Thank you again for this. We’ll be rechecked in another month, and I’m hoping that with corrections, he’ll be back to the normal range


    October 8, 2015
  44. Hamna #

    Hi, can you tell me how the batter of your pancakes turn out if you only use water? I had to add in milk to make it of spreadable consistency for cooking. Also, are there any other substitutes for the milk instead of water which do not hinder iron absorption? Thanks!


    November 11, 2015
  45. Mark #

    Embarrassingly, I can’t find “regular fortified oatmeal” in any of several grocers, including the local healthfood store. (I’m in Vancouver, Canada.)

    Alice, would you (or perhaps someone else reading this?) be so kind as to mention a brand/product that I can bring to the grocer so they can say “Oh, *that.* Yes, of course we have that; it’s right there on aisle 12; you must have been sleep deprivation-induced blindness.”

    Also, just to be crystal clear: you’re talking about something like rolled oats or flakes–which one would find with adult/kid cereals, yes? Not some powdered baby thing, right?

    Thanks so much–both for any insight you have on this matter, and for a most helpful blog in general.


    November 26, 2015
    • Hi Mark,
      Check the instant oats. I think that may be the only option for fortified oatmeal that isn’t the baby variety – i.e. it has more texture. Like this one:

      I can’t promise that’s available in Canada, but you could check.

      This is an old post, and I should update it with this information, but the type of iron used to fortify cereals that aren’t made for babies is less easily absorbed (lower bioavailability) than that used in infant cereals. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it…but I think if you’re really using cereal as a way to give your baby iron, the baby variety is probably best. You could consider something like mixing infant cereal with plain rolled oats if you wanted to up the texture, and your baby would probably actually absorb a similar amount of iron as if you used instant oats with the less bioavailable form of iron. So, it may not be necessary to hunt down this elusive oatmeal!

      Liked by 1 person

      November 26, 2015
  46. Karen Isaacs #

    My grandaughter just runs around house with poched heinz foods mostly sweet only..she is 15months old. Her mum works lunch and dinner shifts in food service. He dad sometimes does not give her food before bottle and bed. She does not have breakfast sometimes toast only. She no longer gets feed in high chair. Other problem her dad puts her in cot too often and sometimes leaves her there to play if he is busy watching tv or fixed car or hobbies. She lives with us and wakes at 7am my partner and i play with her until 9am we change her nappy when she wakes and give her a bottle at 8am parents have her in cot again at 10am and 1pm. She needs more iron and needs to eat protein and iron foods feed by spoon and using highchair. I give her arrowroots but she does not chew anything else. I looked for cheese sticks. But could not see at supermarket. She eats too much sweet foods and does not like savory much.


    January 2, 2016
  47. Shira Hopfer #

    Hi Alice,

    Than you for this!

    I was having a hard time understanding exactly what type of solids to give my 10 mon old girl. Her bloodwork came back low iron so I was told to give her the drops as well as red meat.

    She’s still mostly eating pureed foods as her teeth haven’t come in and I was concerned about choking, but now I’ve slowly started introducing solids and I mix it with her purees.

    She barely likes swallowing solids let alone meat!

    Do you think my plan of mixing solids such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, bite size tomatoes, whole wheat pasta, and turkey meat with her pureed lunch and dinners (all vegetable blends) is is a good first solid food intro as well as good source of iron?

    For breakfast I am giving her baby cereal with bananas and some cinnamon for flavor that she just got used to after a few days of trying. Would you suggest I add strawberries to that as well?

    Thank you!


    January 19, 2016
    • Hi Shira – You can start by giving her pureed meat. Have you tried that? You might try making flavorful chicken thighs or beef in the slow cooker (or some other method that will give you tender meat). You can puree it or go ahead and offer small pieces to your daughter. Or some of both. The other foods you list are all great ideas, but you can also try going ahead and offering her pieces on her tray that she can self-feed. If the foods are soft, she can eat them without teeth! You’ll be addressing the low iron with the iron drops, cereal, and red meat. Beyond that, offer her a variety of foods that she can try out when she’s ready, and don’t stress about how much she eats. Hope this helps!


      January 20, 2016
  48. Alihda William #

    Hi my 2 year old son is very picky with what he eats. He will not eat anything beside the foods he like bacon, pancake, cereal. His iron is about 10% low and I’m worried since he had lead poison when he was 1. He drinks any kind juice but not much water and anything that has fruits or veggies in it. he prefers sweet stuff too we try limit it but he throws a fit. Help.


    April 21, 2016

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Why Is Breast Milk So Low in Iron? | Science of Mom
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