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Iron deficiency in children: Prevention tips for parents

You can include some iron-rich food in your child diet to prevent this deficiency. Lean meat, seafood like tuna, beans and potatoes with skins are good sources of this nutrient. @Shutterstock

Iron deficiency is a fairly common condition among children and may be difficult to spot initially. Read on to know all about this condition.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Updated : June 5, 2020 6:27 PM IST

Iron is one of the most essential nutrients for growing children. Any deficiency of iron can affect your child's development and overall health. This nutrient is not only essential in providing energy for daily life but it also plays a vital role in brain development of your child. It can also lead to a condition called iron deficiency anaemia. However, this is a fairly common condition among children and may be difficult to spot initially. Reasons for iron deficiency are poor diet, loss of blood and inability to absorb iron from dietary sources.

The importance of iron for children

Iron helps in the movement of oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. It is essential for the muscles to properly store and use oxygen. Iron deficiency can also affect growth and development of your child and cause behavioral problems. It can lead to iron deficiency anemia, where blood doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells. This can increase the risk of infections. Sometimes a child's hemoglobin levels can go too low and he or she may require blood transfusions or therapy with iron injection or intravenous iron therapy. In this case, hospitalization is required.

Symptoms of iron deficiency in children

Most of the time, initial symptoms of iron deficiency are too subtle. It is only when your child has iron deficiency anemia, will you be able to spot the symptoms. Common signs of this condition are a pale complexion, fatigue, cold hands and feet, poor appetite and cravings for substances like ice, dirt, paint or starch. Your child may also exhibit signs of slowed growth and development, abnormally rapid breathing, behavioral problems and frequent infections. Brittle nails, a deep red tongue, or cracks on the side of the mouth may also indicate iron deficiency.

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Prevention tips

You need to conscious of adding this nutrient to your child's diet from the beginning itself. Many bay formulas nowadays are fortified with iron. But if you are breast-feeding, talk to your doctor about iron supplements. Usually, such supplements are given after 4 months of age till the time he or she graduates to eating two or more servings of iron-rich foods every day. Once the baby is weaned off milk and formula food, you can start with iron-fortified cereal. Pureed meat and beans once a day will also give your baby the required amount of iron.

If your child is older, include red meat, chicken, fish, beans and spinach in his or her diet. Restrict milk to around 700 milliliters a day. Add vitamin C to your child's food as this will help in the absorption of dietary iron. Citrus fruits, strawberries, bell pepper, tomatoes and leafy greens are good options.

Dietary sources of iron

You can include some iron-rich food in your child diet to prevent this deficiency. Lean meat, seafood like tuna, beans and potatoes with skins are good sources of this nutrient. Leafy greens like spinach and broccoli and dry fruits like raisin are loaded with iron. Prune juice is another food that you can consider adding to your baby's diet as this too contains high amount of iron.

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