Children's Health and Wellness

Babies and Toddlers Need Iron to Thrive

Iron is key to your young child's growing body and mind. Iron moves oxygen around your child's body. Without enough iron, your child may feel tired or have trouble with movement. Your child also needs iron for better thinking.

How much iron does my child need?

Breastfeeding is best for many reasons. The iron in human milk is easily absorbed. If you don't breastfeed, use an iron-fortified formula. At age 6 months, start feeding your baby iron-fortified cereals. At this age, the iron stored in your baby's body during your pregnancy is about used up. The following are the recommendations by age: 

  • Babies from birth to age 6 months should get 0.27 milligrams of iron a day. Breastfeeding moms should talk to their baby's health care providers about iron supplements beginning at age 4 months if they take iron supplements during this time.

  • Babies ages 7 months to 12 months should get much more — 11 milligrams a day.

  • Toddlers ages 1 to 3 years need 7 milligrams a day.

Too much iron is harmful. This isn't a risk with iron from foods, though. It can be a serious problem for babies and toddlers who take too much iron from supplements. Be sure to tighten supplement bottle caps and keep the bottles in a safe place. 

Foods with iron

Both animal and plant foods have iron. Animal sources are easier for the body to absorb. So, provide foods that have vitamin C together with foods that have iron. For example, for toddlers, serve iron-fortified cereal with orange slices. Or serve turkey breast with broccoli.

A note about cow's milk: Cow's milk is low in iron. If children drink too much, they may be less hungry for iron-rich foods. And, milk decreases iron absorption. In some cases, it may cause the intestines to lose small amounts of blood. Ask your child's health care provider how much milk your child should drink .

Foods with iron

  • Breakfast cereal, iron-fortified

  • Oysters

  • White beans

  • Chocolate, dark

  • Beef liver

  • Lentils

  • Spinach

  • Tofu

  • Kidney beans

  • Sardines

  • Chickpeas

  • Tomatoes, canned

  • Beef

  • Potato, baked with skin

  • Cashew nuts 

Foods with vitamin C

Serve these foods with iron-rich foods to help absorb the iron: 

  • Red and green peppers

  • Orange and grapefruit juice

  • Oranges, grapefruit

  • Kiwifruit

  • Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts

  • Strawberries

  • Tomato juice

  • Cantaloupe 

Print Source: Breast Feeding and the Use of Human Milk. Gartner, L. Pediatrics. 2005, is. 115, ed. 2, p. 496-506.
Print Source: Iron Deficiency in Infants and Young Children: Screening, Prevention, Clinical Manifestations, and Diagnosis, UpToDate
Online Source: American Academy of Family Physicians. Iron Deficiency Anemia in Infants and Children: How to Prevent It
Online Source: Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of health. Fact Sheet: Iron
Online Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Chapter 4 -- Nutritional Assessment and Interventions
Online Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Iron and Iron Deficiency
Online Source: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Screening for Iron Deficiency Anemia -- Including Iron Supplementation for Children and Pregnant Women: Recommendation Statement
Author: Bennett, Bev
Online Editor: Geller, Arlene
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 4/27/2014
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