So. It turns out iron is really important for babies.
Well, iron is important for everyone. It enhances oxygen transport within the body, which is pretty much synonymous with increasing energy levels.
For babies, iron is especially important– low iron has been linked with cognitive deficiencies.
We found out a month or so ago that little E is anemic.
We had that horrible encounter with our pediatrician that lots of people write about…we were basically scolded and made to feel like children because we divulged to our doc that we hadn’t been giving him rice cereal.
“You HAVE to give him rice cereal,” he said. “Breastmilk is not a perfect food for babies older than 6 months, ” he said.
At that point in our visit, I retreated into the depths of my brain and began questioning everything that I’d been doing so far as a parent. We had been mostly using the Baby Led Weaning method up until this point…and I’m pretty sure babies wouldn’t choose rice cereal of his own volition.
I was terrified that I had made my son anemic by not giving him rice cereal…or at least that was my emotional response to what our doctor said.
After a minor freakout and some intense research I discovered a few things:
- Babies who are born premature (which Little E was), often don’t have enough time to store all of the iron they need to before being born.
- Babies who have their cord cut before it stops pulsing (which Little E did as a result of being born via emergent cesarean), often don’t have enough iron.
- While there is little iron in breastmilk, babies usually have enough iron stores to make it 6 months or so without needing supplementation.
- Not everyone’s doctor recommends rice cereal…
- Lots of pediatricians routinely prescribe iron supplements at the 9 month check up just assuming that the child’s iron is low.
Little E didn’t start showing an interest in solid food until around 7.5 months. And when he did start showing an interest, we gave him things like pastured egg yolks, squash, and sweet potato and sometimes those little packets of organic baby food.
We figured that the nutrients in the veggies and fruits were more important than any fortified nutrients he’d be getting in the rice cereal.
BUT due to a combination of factors (being premature, and not having delayed cord clamping and possibly because I tend to be a little on the anemic side), he was found to be anemic at his 9-month appointment and prescribed a pretty disgusting iron supplement that we were told to give him three times a day for the next three months…
The supplement was SO gross. He had just started being really interested in food and not we were ruining it with this iron supplement. AND most of our friends in the medical field told us that the synthetic iron supplement is usually not that well absorbed– and that nutrient from whole food sources are usually much easier to assimilate.
So we decided to do a few things to help get his (and our own) iron levels up:
We cook our eggs in a cast iron pan.
Cooking in cast iron can add quite a bit of iron to your food . Back in the olden days, cast iron was a major source of iron in people’s diet. Since we eat eggs pretty much every morning, we decided that cooking them in cast iron could be an easy way to get some more iron into our day. We give Little E two yolks a day from pasture-raised chickens (usually the Vital Farms Alfresco eggs). They’re definitely his favorite food.
We share organic chicken liver pate and red meat.
Iron from animal sources is more efficiently absorbed than iron from plant sources. I’ve been a huge fan of chicken liver pate since I was a kid, and liver is a really good source of lots of blood supporting nutrients. We found a great baby-friendly recipe from Nourished Beginnings Baby Food by Renee Kohley of Raising Generation Nourished. Red meat is also another great source of iron– we try to eat something like Beef Stew or Shepherd’s Pie once a week.
We focus on fruits and veggies that are higher in iron.
We try to prioritize iron in the veggies that we give Little E, so he gets lots of spinach and other dark green leafy veggies (usually in the form of a veggie/fruit puree), and fruits like apricots and prunes (also pureed).
I take some blood-boosting supplements too.
Although the Internet says that you can’t boost the iron content of breastmilk, I figured it wouldn’t be a bad thing for me to get some blood support as well. I currently take Vital Proteins Liver pills and a Megafood Blood Builder Supplement every day. Both are high in vitamin B12, and folate, which are important blood-boosting nutrients.
We still give him his iron supplement, although he tends to spit it out most of the time. BUT I don’t worry too much about it because he’s getting iron from other sources now.