Low Iron


Iron Deficiency and Iron Homeostasis in Low Birth Weight Preterm Infants: A Systematic Review. 
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Jorge Moreno-Fernandez, Julio J. Ochoa, Gladys O. Latunde-Dada, and Javier Diaz-Castro 

“Iron is an essential micronutrient that is involved in many functions in humans, as it plays a criticalrole in the growth and development of the central nervous system, among others. Premature and low birth weight infants have higher iron requirements due to increased postnatal growth compared to that of term infants and are, therefore, susceptible to a higher risk of developing iron deficiency or iron deficiency anaemia.” 


Iron is an essential nutrient that carries oxygen in the blood. It is also vital for energy production, growth development, brain function, immune activity, and healthy cell function. 

Prematurity and low birth weight are major risk factors for the development of iron deficiency in children. 

In the Early Years, Children undergo regular and rapid growth spurts which increase their need for iron. If your child is following a vegan or vegetarian diet, they are at higher risk of iron deficiency and extra care needs to be taken. 

Iron deficiency can affect a child’s energy and their ability to learn or focus. Severe iron deficiency can result in sustained developmental problems. 

The signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia 

Mild anaemia may have no symptoms. As the iron level and blood counts become lower, your infant or toddler may: 

  • Act irritable. 
  • Become short of breath. 
  • Crave unusual foods (called pica) 
  • Eat less food. 
  • Feel tired or weak all the time. 
  • Have a sore tongue. 
  • Have headaches or dizziness. 

With more severe anaemia, your child may have: 

  • Blue-tinged or pale whites of eyes 
  • Brittle nails 
  • Pale skin colour 


To prevent iron deficiency in the Early Years: 

Do not give your baby cow's milk until age 1 year. Babies under age 1 year have a difficult time digesting cow's milk. Use either breast milk or formula fortified with iron. 

After 6 months, your baby will start to need more iron in their diet. Start solid foods with iron-fortified baby cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. 

Iron-rich pureed meats, fruits, and vegetables can also be started. 

After age 1 year, you may give your baby whole milk in place of breast milk or formula. 

Eating healthy foods is the most important way to prevent and treat iron deficiency. Good sources of iron include: 

  • Apricots 
  • Chicken, turkey, fish, and other meats 
  • Dried beans, lentils, and soybeans 
  • Eggs 
  • Liver 
  • Molasses 
  • Oatmeal 
  • Peanut butter 
  • Prune juice 
  • Raisins and prunes 
  • Spinach, kale and other greens 

Picky eaters may be at risk of iron deficiency due to inadequate food intake or a reduced variety in their diet. It’s important to seek advice from an accredited Practising Dietitian, doctor, or child health nurse. 

If you suspect your child may have iron deficiency, talk to your child’s doctor and he/she can arrange for screening to check iron levels. Diagnosis also involved the exclusion of other illnesses that have similar symptoms. Too much Iron can be toxic, so it is important to avoid giving iron supplementation to your child unless advised to do so by your doctor. 

Being aware of the symptoms of iron deficiency in children and what foods contain iron will help prevent your child from developing iron deficiency anaemia. This will all help ease any anxiety you might possibly feel.  

Useful Links 

Raising Children 


The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne 


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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].