3/30/23 blog post
when to be concerned about low iron
in this article:
- Causes of iron deficiency in infants, children and teens
- Symptoms of iron deficiency
- Anemia vs. iron deficiency
- Treating iron deficiency
- When to talk to a doctor
Infants rely on breastmilk or formula for the bulk of their nutrition. Breastmilk is fantastic for most things, but it is a little low on iron. Infants who are breastfed and infants who were born preterm should take an iron supplement prescribed by their pediatrician.
Iron deficiency is common in children, especially in toddlers and teenagers. Iron deficiency can occur if you do not eat enough iron or if you lose too much blood.
In children 1-3 years old, iron deficiency can often be caused by picky eating. Sometimes, kids do not like to eat foods that have iron like leafy greens, meats and seafoods, eggs, beans, and iron-fortified cereals and breads. Other children will drink too much milk and get too full to eat other foods. Milk does not have much iron, so kids don’t get enough iron if they just have milk at meals.
Teenagers tend to develop iron deficiency from blood loss. Sometimes teenage girls will have excess blood loss with heavy menstrual bleeding. Other children and teenagers can develop stomach and intestinal problems that cause them to have small amounts of bleeding each day.
- Restless legs syndrome (an irresistible urge to move your legs)
- Insomnia and restless sleep
Iron is a major part of your hemoglobin protein. This is the protein that carries the oxygen around your body. If you do not have enough hemoglobin, we say you have anemia. People with anemia can look pale, feel tired, and have shortness of breath with simple tasks. Some children will chew on ice or eat paper.
Thankfully, iron deficiency is pretty easy to fix by just giving extra iron. Iron can come as a liquid or a pill. If a child can’t take their medicine, they can get iron through an IV.
All children should have a simple blood test at one year old to check their hemoglobin level. But, if your child has a picky diet, shows signs of anemia, has poor sleep, or has ongoing blood loss you should talk with their pediatrician to see if your child should have another check too.
Most iron deficiency can be managed right with your pediatrician! If your child needs IV treatments or there are other complications, you may need to see a hematologist. That is a doctor who specializes in disorders of the blood including iron deficiency. Your pediatrician will refer you if that’s needed.