What I Discovered About Iron Supplementation

by Charise Rohm Nulsen

A big thank you to Kat of Loving {Almost} Every Moment for guest posting while I am on my babymoon!

A few weeks ago I took my youngest daughter for her check-up. The appointment didn’t start out too well as we are doing an alternative vaccination schedule and so my doctor got a bit defensive from the get-go. Oh well, not much I can do about that. I presented very valid, well-researched reasons, and I think that’s why she got defensive.

Anyways, the next thing she asked me was if Elsa was eating solids. I answered, “No, she is not interested. She spits everything out.” I treaded carefully and avoided mentioning we are doing babyled weaning because I just didn’t want to get into yet another confrontation with her. I just mentioned that we are not doing the baby cereal thing and that we totally respect Elsa’s lead when it comes to what she eats.

I breastfeed her on demand, which she wants about 5-6 times a day and I don’t really know how many times during the night (I’m guessing about 3 or 4, but I’m usually half-awake so I lose count!). We give her access to solid food a few times a day, but it’s up to her whether she eats any of it. So far she has not had any interest whatsoever. She will pick up and play with chunks of chicken, some veggies and fruit, she’ll lick it a bit but if any gets into her mouth, she proceeds to spit it out. I even tried a few pureed fruits and some pureed squash a few times with similar refusals. Fine with us! We know she will eat when she’s ready and when she wants to.

Well, it wasn’t so fine with Doc. She got all red in the face and started spluttering about the importance of iron and that Elsa could be in danger of becoming anemic.

I respect a Physician’s knowledge and expertise, I truly do. I do not respect their fear-mongering methods and their patronizing approach. So, I wanted to roll my eyes. My baby is barely 7 months old! Sheesh.

Anyways, I somehow placated her by saying I wasn’t too worried and that I suspected she would be eating very soon. She mentioned something about buying some vitamin drops containing iron and I said I would look into it. I have to admit that I had not done any research on the topic of iron supplementation up until now. My first baby loved purees and we did do the cereal thing with her, my second baby loved babyled weaning and he loved eating anything and everything…so there hadn’t really been any need to look this up. But this time I needed to, and here’s what I found.

I read several studies indicating that iron supplementation in a healthy, term, breastfed baby is not typically necessary. Here is a very well written, informative article on KellyMom summarizing all the pertinent info. But in a nutshell, unnecessary iron supplementation can actually cause more harm than good. This happens because harmful bacteria (E.coli, Salmonella, Clostridium, Bacteroides, Escherichia, Staphylococcus) love iron, it helps them multiply and thrive. They live in a delicate balance in a baby’s intestine, a balance sustained by lactoferrin and transferrin, proteins in breastmilk which helps the body uptake the iron from the gut. Sure breastmilk doesn’t contain as much iron as formula or cereal, BUT the iron in breastmilk is absorbed way better than iron in any other food! This intricate system allows baby to get iron from his food and it helps keep iron-consuming bacteria in check. But, when you add extra {unnecessary} iron into the mix, as in iron supplements from vitamin drops or iron-fortified foods, this balance is thrown off-kilter and these bacteria can thrive. And baby may get sick with diarrhea and actually ends up getting less needed iron, which may cause slowed growth. Iron supplementation can be used in high-risk babies, but before iron supplements are given, a blood test should be done to check if baby does in fact need iron.

Needless to say, after researching this I felt reassured that I was not worrying about Elsa’s lack of eating solids. And now I have something to provide my doctor with if she mentions it again.

I felt comfortable knowing that my baby is growing well, breastfeeding well…and has no interest in solids, but that’s alright! Babies have a good store of iron and do get iron from breastmilk, so I’m being patient and I’m sure before long her interest in solids will begin!

Some healthy first foods that contain iron are meat and poultry, squash, sweet potatoes, and prunes. And combining them with foods containing Vitamin C, such as fruit and blueberries, helps with iron absorption. As babies get older they can start eating more and more variety. The article I posted above has a list of foods naturally containing iron, but some are not appropriate for young babies, so use your discretion. For more info on babyled weaning visit Babyled Weaning: The Mush Stops Here!

Now for the disclaimer…
I am certainly not a doctor. I am not telling you whether or not you should or shouldn’t give your baby an iron supplement or how you should feed your baby or what foods to give your baby. But I truly believe we as mamas (and papas) know our babies best. And we definitely should ask our doctors questions and make informed decisions when it comes to our baby’s health. I am providing info and support. I have gone through this experience, done some research and followed my mama gut…and I encourage you to do the same!

Happy Eating!

parentingKat is and loves many things. Mostly she loves her husband and being a mommy to her three kiddos. Her background in Psychology and Health Promotion has her always asking questions and wondering what she can do to make her kiddos’ world a better, healthier place. During her “free” time she works as a Life Coach, focusing on Parent Coaching, and and is pursuing her Birth Doula certification. On the side she enjoys writing, photography, reading, yoga and chatting about anything and everything. You can find her blogging at Loving {Almost} Every Moment, where she writes mostly about life with kiddos and all that comes along the parenting journey!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lindsey June 26, 2012 at 1:42 am

My doctor said the EXACT same thing. Drove me nuts. I understand that I’m not a doctor, but I know my baby. And at 7 months? Your baby doesn’t need anything but you. Good for you for standing up for yourself.
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2 Jenny June 26, 2012 at 5:24 am

Hi Lindsay,
I totally agree with you on that. Mother is the one who understands her baby rather than any human being. For a baby she is the most important above of all. So, I support this standing.
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3 Kathi June 26, 2012 at 3:32 am

In some cases, some extra iron supplement could be healthy. My little daughter has been very sick when she was about 3. She didn’t want to eat anything, and her little stomach looked like a ball. Some doctors thought it was a viral infection or something like that. But one of them thought it could be a lack on iron. After the first tablet, my daughter got much better…
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4 Jessica | Cloth Diapering Mama June 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm

My doc is always telling me that my kids are borderline anemic…very common for breastfed babies… I half listen to their rant/lecture and leave shaking my head and swearing that I need to start seeing an osteopath or more natural minded doc. You’re not alone and thanks for the honest post!
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5 Rachael June 27, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Thank you for these resources! I want to do things differently with my second child, including baby-led weaning, but I haven’t started the research on it yet. (Number two is only four months old and appears to be completely unaware that there’s anything to eat other than my milk.) Now I know where to start. Thanks again!
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6 Siobhan August 13, 2013 at 10:21 pm

There is simple test that can tell you if your babies iron level are low. They just prick the baby’s finger. I was concerned about iron, because my babies were breastfeed and I think nature designed babies to get an extra boost of iron from the birth cord, but nowadays they cut the cord very quickly.

Anyways, with my first baby I stuffed cereal in his mouth and worried. With my second, I found out about this test and learned that my little guy was fine at his 6 month and then at his 9 month, he was borderline low-iron, so we just encouraged a lot more red meat. He was fine at the next appointment.

Love this blog. Its beautifully written, and I have been nodding my head to many, many of your postings. :-)

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