Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Baby's Need for Iron

I took Julian to the doctor for his first appointment last week.  Ordinarily babies are seen by the family doctor at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months in order to follow the recommended vaccination schedule, but all of my babies have started their doctor visits around 6 months of age.

After the usual lecture about the dangers of delaying vaccinations, my doctor started her rehearsed speech about the baby's need for iron.  I had heard it 3 times before.  How breastmilk doesn't provide sufficient iron to meet the baby's need beyond 6 months and how I needed to get him on iron-fortified cereal.

Not gonna happen.

But I had a lot of questions.  How can all babies need the same amount of iron at 6 months?  Wouldn't the iron needs of a baby weighing 14lbs at 6 months be different from a baby weighing 20lbs?  Wouldn't it matter if the mother was iron deficient or not during pregnancy?  What about babies who are fed both formula and human milk?  What are the biological and developmental consequences of insufficient iron during months 6-12?

I think these are questions that need to be answered by the medical establishment.  Apparently even the medical establishment thinks so.  (Click here to read more about that.)

So my doctor gave me a bunch of papers to help me learn about iron.  According to the Ministry of Health, babies approaching 1 year of age need approximately 7mg of iron per day.  Since breastmilk contains only about 0.5mg of iron per liter, a mother should assume that her exclusively breastfed baby is getting less than 1mg of iron per day. 

 Dr. Peter Klassen, our very trusted naturopath, informed me that the need for iron (for a healthy, thriving, exclusiviely breastfed baby) does not increase until around 9 months of age.  That makes me less concerned about trying to get Julian to eat food, since he is not very interested in it yet.  Dr. Peter suggested introducing a variety of foods to Julian but to keep nursing on demand.

Alternative sources of iron (in baby-sized portions) include
  • Tofu, 20g (approximately one heaping tablespoon), 2.1mg
  • White beans, 1 tablespoon, 0.5mg
  • Kidney beans, 1 tablespoon, 0.35mg
  • Lentils, 1 tablespoon, 0.45mg
  • Cream of Wheat, 1/4 cup, 0.6mg
  • Oatmeal, 1/3 cup, 0.35mg
  • Prunes, 2 chopped or stewed, 0.5mg
  • Dried apricots, approx. 3, 1mg
  • Blackstrap Molasses, 1 tablespoon, 3.6mg
These are foods I would be willing to feed my baby.  They are available from most retailers of organic foods and they are easily prepared at home.  Of course, there is also iron in meat but since Julian's blood type is 'A', the same as mine, he is a natural vegetarian so I am not going to introduce meat to his diet until he has successfully assimilated and adapted to a wide variety of vegan foods.  More info on iron in other foods can be found here.

Of course I will watch Julian for signs of iron-deficiency.  But as long as he continues to thrive--like the poster boy for health and vitality!--I will not worry.

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