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Spotlight on… Iron in Baby Formula

By Sandra Gordon

Parent's Choice Infant Formula, like all store-brand infant formula sold in the United States, is fortified with iron, which is an important nutrient during the first year of life. Breast milk also naturally contains iron, though in lower amounts than iron-fortified baby formula, because the iron in breast milk is more highly absorbed.

Here's why your baby needs this mighty mineral and what you can do to make sure he or she is getting enough of it.

Iron Impacts Your Baby's Development

Your baby's needs iron for proper growth and brain development. The body uses iron to make hemoglobin, which is part of red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen throughout the body. With enough iron on board, your baby's red blood cells can transport oxygen effectively and the muscle cells can store oxygen like they're supposed to. Your baby's brain can also work better. Studies show that babies who don't get enough iron may develop neurological and behavioral problems. They may have a shorter attention span, grow more slowly and walk and talk later. Some of the effects may be irreversible. All told, iron deficiency and the more serious form, iron-deficiency anemia, is associated with poor development and cognitive performance in infants.

Babies Come Pre-Loaded with Iron

Iron is so important for infants that most are born with a stash of iron; their natural stores aren't depleted until 4 to 6 months of age, which is when infants who are exclusively breast-fed may begin to receive iron supplements. (Your pediatrician may recommend it.) Preterm infants and twins are an exception. They're typically born with less iron and will run through their supply by 2 to 3 months of age. The iron babies get from fortified formula is extra health insurance but necessary. Comparable to name-brand formula, every 100-calorie serving of store-brand formula contains 1.8 milligrams of iron. Iron deficiency has decreased since iron-fortified formulas and iron-fortified foods for infants became available, starting in the 1970s.

Iron Doesn't Cause Constipation

The iron in infant formulas like Parent's Choice Infant Formula is easily absorbed and digested by most infants. Iron in infant formula was once linked to issues, such as colic, constipation, diarrhea or vomiting, but studies didn't bear this out. Infants consuming iron-fortified formula experienced no more gastrointestinal problems than infants who consumed low-iron infant formula. Switching to a low-iron formula is no longer routinely recommended for infants with colic, constipation or diarrhea. If your baby experiences these symptoms, consult your pediatrician or consider switching from regular formula to a hydrolyzed "Gentle" formula, which contains partially broken down whey protein, to see if that helps.

Iron Deficiency is Surprisingly Common

Despite the widespread use of fortified infant formula and the routine use of iron supplements in breast-fed babies, iron is the most common single-nutrient deficiency in the U.S., and a cause of anemia in young children. Twelve percent of infants are estimated to have iron deficiency at 12 months of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Up to 15 percent of toddlers 1 to 3 years old are likely to be iron deficient.

To measure iron, children have their hemoglobin checked at well-child check-ups, at 9 and 12 months of age, and again at 15 and 18 months of age. Be sure to visit the pediatrician on schedule for this important blood test. To reduce the risk of iron deficiency, be sure your child gets plenty of iron-rich foods once he beings to eat solids, such as iron-fortified cereal as a first step. Then gradually introduce other iron-rich foods according to your pediatrician's timetable, including meat, which contains a highly absorbable form of iron, beans and peas, and iron-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as fruits rich in vitamin C, which will help your child's body absorb iron. Check with pediatrician to see if your child may also need a liquid iron supplement or a chewable iron-containing vitamin as well.

About the Author

Sandra Gordon is a consumer products expert, a writer, and a mother of two. She has appeared on NBC's Today Show and as a baby safety expert on The Discovery Health Channel's “Make Room for Baby.” A Consumer Reports author, her latest book is Save a Bundle: 50+ Ways to Save Big on Baby Gear.

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