Infants and young children grow far more rapidly than adults. This is a crucial stage in their development and good nutrition is vital. Iron is one of a range of nutrients that is particularly important for health. It helps to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to body tissues.
Infants who do not get enough iron can develop a disorder called iron deficiency anaemia and, consequently, have an increased risk of developmental delay. Children with iron deficiency anaemia can be tired, listless, and are sometimes irritable. They may also pick up infections easily. If you are concerned about iron deficiency anaemia talk to your GP or Public Health Nurse.
Nearly one in 10 toddlers in Ireland are estimated to have iron deficiency anaemia. As cow’s milk is such a poor source of iron it is important that it is not given as a main drink in babies before 1 year of age.
Your baby is born with enough iron stores to last them until they are about 6 months of age. A this point foods introduced to the diet provide the baby with dietary iron. For this reason it is essential that iron-containing foods are included in the diet.
Iron from meat, chicken and fish (haem iron) is more easily absorbed than iron from cereals, eggs, vegetables or beans (non-haem iron). Including meat, chicken or fish as part of a mixed daily diet for both infants and young children has been shown to be effective in preventing anaemia.
Contact your doctor or public health nurse if you require further dietary information. Further dietary information available from the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute www.indi.ie and the Health Promotion Unit www.healthpromotion.ie
One to five year olds are always on the go and need a wide variety of foods for growth and health. Offer a range of different foods over the course of the week and your child is likely to get the nutrition they need.