Breastfeeding and iron levels

A common source of worry for many breastfeeding mums is iron and whether their child is getting enough. Certainly this cropped up for a friend recently who, having never before given it any thought, was challenged by another mum about not supplementing her baby’s diet.

This prompted me to do some digging around online and fortunately I was easily able to reassure her.

The NCT say that:

“Babies are born with iron stores so they do not need to take in much from their diet at first. Most breastfed babies receive enough iron from breastmilk to keep the stores they were born with topped up. Babies born with low stores, perhaps because they were premature or small-for-dates, may benefit from iron supplements. Also, a baby whose mother’s iron level is low may benefit from an iron supplement before six months. If you think this applies to you, talk to your doctor, paediatrician or health visitor. Only part of the iron in formula milk is absorbed so all brands have extra iron added. This means formula fed babies do not generally need any extra iron, although premature babies might. However, anaemia (low iron levels) is one of the most common problems in young children, so iron-rich foods need to be included once your baby starts taking solids. These can include red meat, pulses (peas and beans), and iron-fortified cereals. Vitamin C (in fresh fruit, and fresh or frozen vegetables) at the same meal helps your baby absorb the iron.”

One of my favourite breastfeeding websites is kellymom which I used loads during my time breastfeeding. This well researched and referenced page considers whether breastfed babies need iron supplementation. It concludes:

“My interpretation of this information is that there is no problem with (and lots of advantages to) continuing with exclusive breastfeeding until your baby is truly ready for solids. At some point toward the end of the first year, your baby will gradually begin to need more iron than that provided by breastmilk alone, so offer your baby foods naturally rich in iron and vitamin C as he begins to eat solids. If there is any question of anemia, get a blood test – if baby’s hemoglobin levels are OK then there is no reason for additional iron in the diet.”

Hope this is a useful summary from two sources I trust. Clearly if you have reason to doubt your baby’s iron levels do speak to your health visitor, but if they are eating and drinking well and are to all intents and purposes healthy then it’s probably nothing to get stressed about.


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