Iron is an essential dietary nutrient and is especially important in infants for brain development and a healthy immune and circulatory system.
Full term infants are born with a reserve supply of iron from placental transfer during pregnancy, they also receive iron from breast milk or formula to meet any additional iron needs. But at around 6 months of age these iron reserves deplete and additional dietary sources of iron are required to meet a baby’s demanding growth requirements. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for iron from 7-12 months of age is 11mg/day (the RDI for a grown male is 8mg/day). This is because a child’s iron requirements are highest during periods of rapid growth.
Breast milk or formula will remain the main source of nutrition for a baby during the first 12 months of life. Breast milk contains a small amount of iron (0.03g /100ml) but it is very bioavailable, infant formula contains 0.8g/100ml (synthetic iron less bioavailable). From 6 months of age breast milk or formula alone cannot meet the increased needs of iron for growth and development. The current Australian recommendations are from 6 months of age when solids are started dietary iron should be introduced as a priority before or with iron foods.
Iron from food comes in 2 forms, Haem and Non haem; haem iron from meat is more easily absorbed and used by the body, but it is still important to include a wide variety of iron sources from both groups. To achieve close to the RDI for babies, iron rich foods need to be included at all meals.
Haem iron is found in animal foods and it is well absorbed by our bodies:
- Beef, lamb,
- Chicken liver or lamb liver (liver can be given once a week as is an excellent source of easily absorbed iron)
- Pork, chicken, turkey
Non-haem iron is found mainly in plant foods. It is not absorbed as easily by our bodies. It is still an important source of iron.
- Iron-fortified cereals and breads; Kids Weetbix is iron fortified
- Chia seeds
- Legumes (baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, white beans)
- Green leafy vegetables
- Peanut paste and other nut pastes
- Dried fruit
Non-haem iron is better absorbed if eaten with meat or foods high in Vitamin C. Some good sources of Vitamin C include:
- Fruits like strawberries, oranges, lemons, kiwi, blue berries
- Vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale
High Iron Recipe for Starting Solids:
Beef, silverbeet and pumpkin puree
Ingredients: 100g of beef mince, 100 g of pumpkin, 2 x silverbeet leaves
Method: cook 100g of beef mince in a pan with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, steam 100g of pumpkin and 2 silverbeet leaves.
Combine ingredients and blitz to desired consistency (a dash of water can be added if required)
I’m Anna paediatric dietitian (APD, BND) and creator of Nourish Little Lives. My goal is to provide parents with evidenced based nutrition information, and practical strategies for nourishing their families. With over 12 years experience as a Dietitian, I have worked with thousands of families. I help families with reflux, starting solids, baby led weaning, gut health, functional gut disorders in infants, allergies, intolerances, fussy eating and growth or development feeding issues.
You can book to work with me via my website, or just follow along on Instagram for helpful tips and information.