What is anemia?When young children develop anemia, the usual cause is a lack of dietary iron. This mineral nourishes the body’s red blood cells so they can create hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen throughout the body.
Babies are born with a store of iron that usually lasts up to six months. It’s not unusual for children between 4 and 6 months of age to develop mild anemia as their body’s supply of iron becomes depleted. Feeding your baby breast milk or iron fortified formula helps replenish this supply.
Also, anemia can develop around 6 months of age when babies start solids and drink less formula or breast milk. Babies born prematurely and exclusively breastfed infants may deplete their stores of iron earlier even earlier.
Signs of anemiaSigns of anemia are often subtle. More often than not, your child won’t have any symptoms at all. When they do occur, symptoms may include:
Looking paleHaving fingernails lacking in colorHaving low energyWhat you can doYour pediatrician checks for anemia during regular checkups and may test hemoglobin levels with a blood sample between 9 and 12 months.
If anemia is confirmed, you may need to start giving your child iron rich foods, such as red meats, fortified cereals, and beans. It’s also important to serve foods rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice, because they enhance iron absorption. (Don’t give juice to babies younger than 6 months and limit the amount of juice your baby drinks to no more than 1/2 a cup daily.)
Iron supplements also help. The American Academy of Pediatrics even recommends giving strictly breastfed babies iron supplements after 4 months as a preventive measure until they start eating iron rich solid foods. But check with your child’s doctor first because regular use of iron supplements can cause stomach upset.