Babies and Toddlers Need Iron to Thrive

Iron-rich foods may not be top-of-mind when thinking about what to feed your baby or toddler. Yet this mineral 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 and listless or have poor motor skills. Your child also needs iron for sharper thinking.

How much iron does my baby need?

You can do your part to make sure your baby gets enough iron even before he or she is born. Not getting enough iron during pregnancy can increase the risk for preterm or small babies. Women planning a family should make sure to eat foods rich in iron. Ask your doctor about when to start taking prenatal vitamins. Pregnant women should get at least 27 milligrams of iron each day.

If possible, breastfeed your infant. The iron in human milk is easily absorbed by the infant. If you don't breastfeed, use an iron-fortified formula. At age 6 months, introduce iron-fortified cereals because baby's iron stores from birth are depleted.

  • Infants from birth to age 6 months should get 0.27 milligrams of iron a day. (Breastfeeding moms should talk to their pediatricians 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 need 7 milligrams a day.

Too much iron is harmful. This isn't a risk with iron-bearing foods, though. Children won't get too much iron from foods alone. But, iron supplement ingestion by an infant, toddler, or child can be fatal. Be sure to tighten supplement caps and keep out of reach from children.


Foods for iron

Both animal and plant foods supply iron. Animal sources are easier for the body to absorb. Offer your child foods rich in Vitamin C along with iron-rich foods to increase iron absorption. For a toddler, serve iron-fortified cereal with orange slices, for example. Or pair turkey breast with broccoli.

Cow's milk is low in iron. If kids get full on cow's milk, they may be less hungry for iron-rich foods. Milk also decreases iron absorption. Ask your doctor how much milk your child should drink.


Animal sources

  • Lean braised beef

  • Roast chicken leg

  • Baked halibut

  • Organ meats

  • Pork loin

  • Turkey

  • Duck

  • Sardines

  • Tuna

  • Shellfish, clams, shrimp, scallops, and crabmeat

  • Egg yolks

Plant sources

  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal

  • Iron-fortified instant oatmeal

  • Enriched grits

  • Tofu

  • Whole wheat bread

  • Enriched white bread

  • Tomato paste

  • Prune juice

  • Legumes, including lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, refried beans, chickpeas, green soy beans, black beans, and pinto beans