Iron Supplements for Kids: Are They Necessary?
- Iron is a mineral that is found in many whole foods.
- Iron is critical for the healthy functioning of your child’s body as well as their mind.
- Low iron levels can be addressed through iron-rich food sources.
- If that isn’t enough, you may need to consider an iron supplement for kids or a kids’ multivitamin with iron.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common forms of nutrient deficiency, with one quarter of the world’s population suffering from anemia. It’s especially prevalent among women and children — and not getting enough iron has serious consequences. It impacts your child’s growth and development, both physically and mentally, and the effects can be long-term.
Let’s explore why iron is such an important component of your child’s diet, how much they need, and where to get it from. We’ll also look at why your little one may need an iron supplement for kids or a kids’ multivitamin with iron. It’s critical that they get enough iron at an early age so their bodies and minds can develop properly.
Why Your Child Needs Enough Iron
Iron is involved in producing hemoglobin, which is a type of protein found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is critical for delivering all-important oxygen throughout your little one’s body.
Without enough iron, their body can’t use the oxygen they breathe, and their cells, tissues, and muscles can’t function as they should. Iron is also important for immune support, making children with low iron more susceptible to infections and the common cold.
An iron deficiency can affect cognitive function too, leading to behavioral, learning, and social issues, which negatively affect both your child and those around them.
Getting your little one’s iron levels right early on is important as the effects of deficiency can be long-lasting. So if your child isn’t getting enough iron from their food, you may want to consider an iron supplement for kids on the recommendation of a health care provider.
When Your Child May Need an Iron Supplement for Kids
There are other causes of anemia, but iron deficiency is one of the most common. When your child isn’t getting enough iron on a regular basis, their body starts using up its iron stores. When those stores are depleted, they may end up with iron deficiency anemia.
Consider the several reasons that your little one may develop iron deficiency and potentially need an iron supplement for kids. For example, your child could be deficient in iron if:
- They were born prematurely or with a low birth weight.
- They’re experiencing rapid growth, as many children do during puberty.
- They are a picky eater or vegan or vegetarian, and therefore probably not getting enough iron-rich food.
- They have a medical condition that reduces the absorption of nutrients from their food.
- They have gastrointestinal issues caused by drinking too much cow’s milk.
- They’re extremely active and get a lot of exercise.
- They're an adolescent girl who has started menstruating.
Signs of Iron Deficiency Anemia
Low iron can result in many different symptoms. Look out for these signs in your little one:
- Low energy
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Frequent illness or infections
- Slow growth
- Speeding heartbeat
- Pale skin
- Cravings for unusual things, like dirt or paint
- Difficulty concentrating
- Behavioral problems
If you’re starting to see some of these warning signs and are worried that your child may not be getting enough iron, the first step is to consult your pediatrician or another professional health care provider.
Before putting them on to an iron supplement for kids or a kids’ multivitamin with iron, get them tested. Also, make sure that your pediatrics expert is aware of any other health conditions they may have as well as any medication they are taking.
How Much Iron Does Your Child Need?
Babies, infants, toddlers, young children, and adolescents all need a certain amount of iron as they grow and develop.
The National Institutes of Health recommends these intakes for non-vegetarian children:
- 0-6 months of age: 0.27 milligrams of iron
- 7-12 months of age: 11 milligrams of iron
- 1-3 years of age: 7 milligrams of iron
- 4-8 years of age: 10 milligrams of iron
- 9-13 years of age: 8 milligrams of iron
- 14-18 years of age: 15 milligrams of iron for girls and 11 milligrams for boys
If your little one only eats plant-based foods, then you need to give them 1.8 times more iron because plant-based iron isn’t as easily absorbed.
How to Help Your Child Get Enough Iron
While babies are in the womb — provided they come to full term — their iron stores are developed and they use that stored iron for about 6 months after birth. After that, they need extra iron.
Breast milk doesn’t naturally contain iron, so even if you’re breastfeeding, you may need to give your baby a supplement after those first six months. If you’re feeding your little one with fortified infant formula though, they’re probably getting enough iron.
Once you move your child onto solid foods, it’s vital to make sure you include good sources of iron in their diet.
Whole foods should always be your first solution to providing enough iron for your child. The type of food determines the kind of iron it contains. Animal sources contain heme iron, while plant-based foods contain non-heme iron.
Contrary to the popular belief that iron from animal sources is best, it turns out that although heme iron is more easily absorbed, this may not be such a good thing. The body can regulate iron absorption from plant-based sources but not from animal sources, and it’s therefore easy to get too much heme iron.
Added to that, the latest research shows that getting too much heme iron may actually put your child at greater risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. So it seems that non-heme iron from plant-based sources is in fact healthiest.
Some excellent plant-based, iron-rich whole foods include:
- Legumes, like beans, chickpeas, and lentils
- Pumpkin and squash
- Dark, leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, and broccoli
- Salad greens
- Nuts, like cashews
- Whole grains, like quinoa
- Some dried fruits, like apricots or raisins
- Dark chocolate (preferably unsweetened)
- Seeds and nuts
Although some foods are fortified with iron, they also often contain a lot of sugar and other less-healthy ingredients. Be sure to read the ingredient list and nutrition facts on the label before you buy them.
Encouraging your child to eat some of these iron-rich foods may be a bit challenging to start with, since many of them don’t feature in most children’s list of favorites. Being creative is key here. For example, try serving them with others that they do like, and eat them yourself — giving you yet another reason to include more spinach and beans in your own diet.
Vitamin C helps improve iron absorption, especially from plant-based foods, so it’s a really good idea to give your child foods like tomatoes, broccoli, citrus fruit or juice, spinach, or strawberries with their meals. Note that milk decreases absorption, so avoid that at mealtimes.
Types of Iron Supplements for Kids
If you’re worried that your child may not be getting enough iron, consult your pediatrician or doctor to find how to get your child’s iron levels tested. If they’re low, start by giving them extra iron-rich, plant-based foods for a while, along with foods that are high in vitamin C to improve absorption. If they’re still low after that, your doctor may recommend an iron supplement.
Iron supplements for kids are usually in the form of ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, or ferrous citrate. Vitamin supplements are available as kids’ multivitamins with iron or as individual iron supplements for kids.
Vitamin supplements for kids come in different forms including syrups, a liquid iron supplement with a dropper, or powders that can be mixed into other foods — these options are usually best for younger children. Older children can manage chewable tablets or gummies.
Be aware that many of these iron supplements for kids are full of other ingredients that might not be so great for your child’s health. Look out for added sugar, artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors. Ideally, choose a supplement that’s gluten-free.
Of course, iron isn’t the only mineral your child needs, especially if they’re a picky eater. They may also need a good multivitamin supplement that tops up other essential vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, B, C, and folate. Your best bet is an organic dietary supplement made with real fruit, like Llama Naturals Plant-Based Multivitamin Gummies. All Llama Naturals products are derived from natural ingredients (and they taste great!).
When used incorrectly, iron supplements are a leading cause of toxicity for children under the age of six. The side effects of too much iron are at best uncomfortable, causing nausea, an upset stomach, constipation, vomiting, or even fainting. At worst, an accidental overdose needs to be treated as a medical emergency as it can be fatal.
To keep your little one safe, make sure you keep iron supplements for kids well away from them and that the bottle has a safety cap. Follow the dosage instructions exactly and consult your doctor immediately if you have any concerns.
Does Your Child Need an Iron Supplement for Kids?
Iron is a critical mineral for your child’s healthy growth and development. Without enough iron, they may suffer from long-term physical and mental challenges, including muscle weakness, low energy, a weakened immune system, and learning and behavioral issues.
If you’re worried that your little one may be deficient, it’s important to have them tested. You can then address the problem through their diet and if need be, consult with your pediatrician to find out if they need an iron supplement for kids. Address any nutritional problems early on, and you give your child the best chance of a strong and healthy body and mind, both now and later on in life, with gummy vitamins from Llama Naturals.
Llama Naturals is a plant-based nutrition brand that has created the World's First Whole Fruit Gummy Vitamins that are made with no added sugar and whole-food vitamins. They are USDA Organic, Vegan, Gluten Free, free of common allergens, and are slow-cooked on low heat to retain rich phytonutrients & fruit flavor. It’s a win-win gummy vitamin that the whole family will love.