Anemia is a condition that causes the body to produce insufficient amounts of healthy red blood cells, which are needed to bring oxygen to body tissues. An estimated 20 percent of American children will have anemia at some point in their childhood.
While there are many types of anemia, iron deficiency anemia—when the decrease in red blood cells is caused by a lack of iron—is a common nutritional deficiency in children.
Iron-deficiency anemia can be the caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Insufficient iron in the diet
- Poor absorption of iron
- Ongoing blood loss, most commonly from gradual blood loss in the intestinal tract
- Periods of rapid growth
For babies and toddlers, the cause is typically a diet low in iron, especially after they have begun eating solid foods and start drinking cow’s milk. Many children don’t consume enough iron-rich foods, while drinking too much cow’s milk (more than 24 ounces per day) can injure the lining of the stomach, causing chronic blood loss that leads to iron deficiency.
While the easiest solution might seem to give your child an iron supplement to help relieve the condition, parents should never supplement their children with iron without consulting a doctor first. Too much iron can be toxic, so the dosage needs to be figured out by a doctor and followed exactly.
In many cases, mild anemia can be resolved through improving your child’s diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants be fed breast milk or iron-fortified formula for at least 12 months. After your child has moved on to solids, make sure they eat a diet in iron-rich foods, such as:
- Cereal, pasta, bread and other grains with iron added (known as iron fortified).
- Meat, especially beef and liver; chicken, turkey, pork, lamb and fish are also rich in iron.
- Dark green, leafy vegetables, like spinach, collard greens, kale, and broccoli.
- Beans and legumes, such as black-eyed peas, chickpeas, green peas, pinto beans and baked beans.
- Peanut butter (peanuts are also a legume). Many children have a peanut allergy so consult with your pediatrician first.
- Some dried fruits, like apricots and figs.
- Yellow fruits and vegetables, like bananas.
- An estimated 20 percent of American children will have anemia at some point in their childhood.
- Iron deficiency anemia is when the decrease of red blood cells is caused by a lack of iron.
- While an iron supplement can help, parents need to be careful about dosage since too much iron can be poisonous.
- Instead, a diet in iron rich foods can help boost your child’s iron levels.