Warning Signs of Iron Deficiency in Children

It is important to have sufficient levels of iron within the blood. The lack of iron can lead to numerous complications, such as anemia – a condition with low amount of active red blood cells which are essential for oxygenating. If you suspect that your children may have an iron deficiency, you should accompany them to see a pediatrician. If left untreated, it may lead to physical or cognitive impairment.

What Are the Signs of Iron Deficiency in Children?

In many cases, iron deficiency has no symptoms until the occurrence of iron deficiency anemia has developed. This may be noticed with the following symptoms:

  • Skin paleness
  • Weakness
  • Irritability

Severe cases of iron deficiency anemia may lead to the following symptoms:

  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath

It is possible for post-maternal newborns to develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin) if they have hemolytic anemia. Iron deficiency in childrencan also cause a behavioral condition known as "pica" in which a child eats bizarre substances, such as dirt.

If your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms or you suspect that your child might be anemic, see the pediatrician for testing and treatment.

Is Iron Deficiency Dangerous for Children?

The symptoms above may be troubling for parents, but further complications may arise, including the aforementioned physical and cognitive impairment (which may be irreversible), as well as increased risks of infection and lead poisoning.

Is Your Child at Risk for Iron Deficiency?

If your child has the risk factors below, he or she may have a higher possibility of iron deficiency. Pay close attention to any abnormal signs and slightly increase the iron intake.

1. Premature and Low Birth Weight

Babies who are born full-term have sufficient iron stores which can last up to six months. Babies who are born prematurely or have a lower birth weight than expected may have depleted stores of iron that may only last two months, making them more susceptible to developing an iron deficiency.

2. Drinking Only Cow’s Milk

Cow’s milk is low in iron and it may also interfere with the baby’s natural ability to absorb iron from other sources. Cow’s milk may also cause irritation in your child’s stomach. Therefore, you should avoid giving your child cow’s milk during the first year and opt for natural breast feeding or specialized formula.

3. Diets Low in Iron

The iron in our body, as with most nutrients and vitamins, is absorbed via the food that we consume. On average, around 1 mg is absorbed per 10-20 mg of iron consumed. Iron deficiency in children is likely to develop if an unbalanced diet with a lack of iron is consumed.

4. Growth Spurts

As your child grows, they will require more iron in their diet to accompany their natural growth and red blood cell production. If the iron intake doesn’t increase during growth spurts, your child is likely to have iron deficiency.

5. Gastrointestinal Tract Abnormalities

If an abnormality arises in the gastrointestinal tract where iron is absorbed, such as what may occur after gastrointestinal surgery, your child may have trouble absorbing iron, leading to a deficiency.

6. Blood Loss

Your child may lose blood in numerous ways, such as injury or gastrointestinal bleeding. Losing too much blood can lead to anemia.

How Is Iron Deficiency Treated in Children?

In most cases, iron deficiency in children can be treated with the daily intake of iron supplements. You may also change their diet and give them multivitamins containing iron. It takes up to six months for the problem to be fully eliminated. It is important to speak with a health care professional before attempting any treatment as the wrong dosage of iron may lead to more complications than benefits. The following are several tips concerning the treatments of iron deficiency in children:

1. The supplements should be taken on an empty stomach so as to absorb the iron more efficiently.

2. Avoid giving iron with fluids like milk, as this will impair the body’s ability to absorb iron.

3. Foods high in vitamin C, such as oranges, can help with the absorption of iron.

4. If the treatment has proved to be ineffective, which can be determined by your child’s symptoms not alleviating or by further medical testing, a more drastic course of action may be required in the form of a blood transfusion.

How to Prevent Iron Deficiency in Children

1. Breastfeed or Use Iron Fortified Formula

The best and most easily absorbed form of iron for children under the age of one is breast milk. That’s why it is recommended that you continue to breastfeed for at least one year. If you are unable to do so, opt for formula which is fortified with iron.

2. Serve a Balanced Diet

When your child is able to consume solid foods, opt for foods that are rich in iron, such as baby cereal. As they get older, good sources of iron include dark leafy green vegetables, fish, chicken, red meat and beans. Between the ages of one to five, cow milk consumption should be limited to 710 milliliters (24 ounces) per day.

3. Promote Absorption with Vitamin C

As mentioned, vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron. This can be found in foods such as oranges, tomatoes, melons, strawberries, broccoli, potatoes and kiwi.

4. Take Iron Supplements

Iron deficiency in children is often treated with iron supplements. If your child is at an increased risk of developing iron deficiency anemia, such as if they were born prematurely, it may be wise to implement iron supplements.

How Much Iron Do Children Need?

Age Group

Recommended Amount of Daily Iron (mg)

7-12 Months


1-3 Years


4-8 Years


9-13 Years


14-18 Years (Girls)


14-18 Years (Boys)