Anemia is a condition where the body lacks sufficient red blood cells. Iron is a mineral that is essential for our bodies to function, as it is involved in hemoglobin production. Hemoglobin is a component of red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. When your child’s body doesn’t have enough iron, this is referred to as “Iron Deficiency Anemia”, or IDA. This article will take you through the causes and symptoms of this disease, and provide you with the tools to help your child combat it.
There are two types of iron present in our foods: Heme Iron, and Non-Heme Iron. Heme Iron is readily absorbed by the body and is present in lean red meat, poultry and fish. Non-Heme Iron is less readily absorbed compared to Heme Iron, and can be found in plant sources such as nuts, legumes and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin C increases its absorption; however, calcium and caffeine reduce it.
After birth, most children have sufficient iron stores to last them for the first six months of life, after which they need to obtain it from the food that they consume. There are several reasons that may cause your child to develop Iron Deficiency Anemia. The most common of these are:
- A lack of iron in your child’s diet.
- Heavy consumption of cow’s milk, replacing their consumption of iron-rich foods.
- Poor iron absorption by the body, despite consuming adequate amounts. A pediatrician would need to identify why this occurs as it may require some medical tests.
Now that you have an idea of the possible causes of IDA, how do you know if your child is iron deficient? The symptoms of IDA are quite easily detectable, such as:
- Fatigue and laziness.
- Unusual food cravings (also known as Pica), where the child wants to eat non-food items such as ice and sand.
- Poor appetite.
- Pale skin, and pale whites of the eyes.
- Brittle nails.
- Cold hands and feet.
If you feel that your child has a poor diet, or is displaying any of the above symptoms, please seek medical advice as soon as possible to rule out IDA. Your health care professional may request a blood sample to confirm the diagnosis. Don’t panic, the treatment of this disease is fairly straightforward. Your pediatrician will most likely prescribe iron supplements that will replenish your child’s depleted iron stores. Simple and effective!
Here are a few things you can do at home that can help prevent your child from developing IDA:
- Do not delay complementary feeding. Once your child has completed six months of age, start introducing pureed foods to his/her diet. It is recommended that you begin with rice, cereals, vegetables and fruits. Try starting with potatoes, zucchini, apples and bananas, and then gradually introduce new fruits and veggies.
- Do not feed infants below 12 months of age cow’s milk. The protein in cow’s milk is not suitable for infants below one year and may cause IDA. Breastfeeding is best for babies; however, if you have chosen not to breastfeed, use iron-fortified infant formula instead of cow’s milk.
- Vary your child’s diet and be sure to include sources of iron. Include organ meats in your child’s diet regularly after the age of eight months. Include chicken (try SADIA® Chicken Nuggets or SADIA® Chicken Breasts), lean red meat and fish. Begin with small portions and gradually increase the amount of protein so that when your child is one year old, he or she is ready to have the same meals as the rest of the family.
- Maximize your child’s absorption of iron. Give your child a cup of orange juice after he or she has consumed Non-Heme Iron sources such as dried fruits, dark leafy greens (such as spinach), and beans/peas.
It’s important to be a pro-active parent. Don’t wait until your child displays symptoms of IDA, or any other deficiency or disease for that matter. Schedule your child for regular checkups, vary your child’s diet and encourage an active lifestyle starting from childhood. This will keep your children healthy and happy, while putting your mind at ease.
This article offers general advice and may not be recommended for your child. Be sure to schedule your child for regular health checkups with a qualified health care professional.