Nutrition-wise blog

Restless legs and iron deficiency in children

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. January 30, 2013

My children were never what you might call good sleepers as babies. But for one of my sons, the sleep issues continued into his toddler years. However, his midnight visits weren't accompanied by the usual request, "Mommy, can I sleep with you?"

Instead, my son would come to me out of sorts after flopping around in bed like a fish out of water and complain, "Mommy, my body hurts."

So, began the long climb out of iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency is strongly associated with restless leg syndrome in children. And restless leg in children is often underdiagnosed, passed over as growing pains. Another risk factor is family history. Thinking back, yes, there were nights during my pregnancies that I jumped out of bed to ease my restless legs. Iron deficiency can also be a result of celiac and other diseases. Fortunately, that isn't the case for my son.

My toddler started an iron supplement and it helped him sleep. Although doctors and pharmacists alike warned me that I'd struggle to get him to take it, I didn't and still don't.

It's two years later and we are still supplementing. Between growth spurts and the fact that iron is a difficult nutrient to absorb, it's taking time to work up to the iron level that our son's doctor targeted for him.

My son eats meat and some vegetables, not foods that all toddlers like. He's a milk drinker but not excessively so and juice is minimal. Of course, we have the typical toddler feeding issues of eating well one day and not another. And meal planning is a bit more complicated since it involves pairing iron and vitamin C rich foods. But I've got that one covered and I consider us lucky.

To the health of our children,


Jan. 30, 2013