What are the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in children?

Too little iron can impair your child's ability to function. However, most signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in children don't appear until iron deficiency anemia occurs. If your child has risk factors for iron deficiency, talk to his or her doctor.

Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia might include:

  • Pale skin
  • Fatigue
  • Slowed growth and development
  • Poor appetite
  • Abnormally rapid breathing
  • Behavioral problems
  • Frequent infections
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, paint or starch

How can iron deficiency in children be prevented?

If you're feeding your baby iron-fortified formula, he or she is likely getting the recommended amount of iron. If you're breast-feeding your baby, follow these supplementation recommendations:

  • Full-term infants. Start giving your baby an iron supplement at age 4 months. Continue giving your baby the supplement until he or she is eating two or more servings a day of iron-rich foods, such as fortified cereal or pureed meat. If you breast-feed and give your baby fortified formula and the majority of your baby's feedings are from formula, stop giving your baby the supplement.
  • Premature infants. Start giving your baby an iron supplement at age 2 weeks. Continue giving your baby the supplement until age 1. If you breast-feed and give your baby fortified formula and the majority of your baby's feedings are from formula, stop giving your baby the supplement.

Other steps you can take to prevent iron deficiency include:

  • Serve iron-rich foods. When you begin serving your baby solids — typically between ages 4 months and 6 months — feed him or her foods with added iron, such as iron-fortified baby cereal, pureed meats and pureed beans. For older children, good sources of iron include red meat, chicken, fish, beans and dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Don't overdo milk. Between ages 1 and 5, don't allow your child to drink more than 24 ounces (710 milliliters) of milk a day.
  • Enhancing absorption. Vitamin C helps promote the absorption of dietary iron. You can help your child absorb iron by offering foods rich in vitamin C — such as citrus fruits, cantaloupe, strawberries, bell pepper, tomatoes and dark green vegetables.

Should I have my child screened for iron deficiency?

Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia are typically diagnosed through blood tests. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants be tested for iron deficiency anemia starting between ages 9 months and 12 months and, for those who have risk factors for iron deficiency, again at later ages. Depending on the screening results, your child's doctor might recommend an oral iron supplement or a daily multivitamin or further testing.

Iron deficiency in children can be prevented. To keep your child's growth and development on track, offer iron-rich foods at meals and snacks and talk to your child's doctor about the need for screenings and iron supplements.

Nov. 29, 2016 See more In-depth