Iron deficient anaemia is the most common type of anaemia and is found in one in every five women of childbearing age. Iron is vital to our health as it enables red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
According to Health24, slight iron deficiencies show few symptoms, but once the deficiency becomes significant, you may experience fatigue, weakness and headaches. Besides affecting women of child bearing age, iron deficient anaemia is also common in adults over 65 years of age, people from middle- to low-income countries, as well as children.
There are various reasons why iron deficient anaemia can occur. It is therefore important to investigate the cause of the deficiency once the diagnosis is made. It may be due to low birth weight; lack of iron in the diet coupled with rapid growth; it could be caused by a problem with absorbing iron from the intestines; or as a result of excessive blood loss.
Iron from mother to child
0–6 months: While still in the uterus, babies receive their iron supply from the mother via the placenta, which means that the mother’s diet during pregnancy is very important. Pregnant woman need to make sure they eat a balanced, high nutritional diet as well as take a daily vitamin supplement to help reduce any risk of deficiencies. Premature babies are at increased risk of iron deficiency and will need iron supplementation.
6–12 months: A baby’s iron stores may run low in the second half of their first year. Iron deficiency can result if their diet doesn’t include enough iron-rich solid food. At around six months, two servings a day of plain, iron-fortified infant cereal mixed with breast milk or infant formula can be given. Plain pureed meats can soon be incorporated with other solids, once your baby is used to the cereal. Late introduction of solids into the baby’s diet is a common cause of iron deficiency in this age group.
12 months–5 years: There is a small amount of iron in breast milk. From six months, infants should, however, have solids in their diet as breastfeeding alone wont provide all the necessary nutrients. Therefore, choosing to breast feed a child for an extended period could cause an iron deficiency.
Symptoms in infants
BetterHealth lists how iron deficiency anaemia may manifest in children:
- Behavioural problems, crankiness
- Repeated infections
- Loss of appetite
- Low energy
- Breathlessness, struggling to breathe easily
- Increased perspiration
- Strange cravings, like eating dirt (pica)
- Low growth rate
It is important to see a medical professional to asses the symptoms your child is experiencing and make an accurate diagnosis before you try an of the treatment options.
Make your child's diet richer in iron. Consider including the following foods:
- Meat and meat products
- Green vegetables
There are supplements available for children to help ensure they have sufficient iron their systems.
Milk and caffeinated drinks can hinder iron absorption; rather give the iron supplement before a meal or with orange juice, as vitamin C can help with iron absorption.