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Iron - The Nutrient Powerhouse in Infancy and in Pregnancy

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

Baby eating infant cereal
Baby cereal in Canada is fortified with iron

This post is all about IRON ! Most of us know that iron is important in infancy and beyond but why?! 

Iron is used to: 

  • Build red blood cells 

  • Carry oxygen from our lungs to other parts of the body 

  • Help the body produce energy and

  • Protect cells from damage 

Essentially, iron keeps your body functioning properly. Certain groups may be at risk for iron deficiency meaning that getting enough is even more crucial. 

Iron deficiency is common for babies, toddlers, teenagers and women of reproductive age. Let’s explore each group's unique needs and risk factors and then some ideas on how to include enough iron in your baby's diet. 

Scroll DOWN to see charts of exactly how much iron is needed and hacks on how to include high iron foods every day.


Baby holding pink spoon eating infant cereal
Baby cereal mixed with high Vit C applesauce

When babies are born they have enough iron stored and are able to absorb what they need from breast milk or formula and do not need supplements or extra food.

  • After 6 months, however, the stores become depleted and they must get iron from the foods they eat.

  • At ages 7-12 months, babies need 11mg of iron per day.

  • Babies are growing at a rapid rate which is why their iron needs are so high, even higher than the requirements for a grown man! 

  • This is why infant cereals and snacks like fruit pouches are often enriched with iron.

  • Iron rich foods should be among the first foods offered in order to prevent deficiency.

  • Infant cereal can be added to meals or baked goods to boost iron content!


Toddler eating baby led weaning foods
Toddler eating a family meal with the family

From ages 1-3 years, toddlers need 7mg of iron per day.

  • Picky eating can be common in this age group and can impact iron intake- try to offer iron rich foods at every meal and pair with foods your child typically enjoys.

  • Milk should be limited to 2 cups a day and should be offered after iron rich foods. 

  • Milk is not a rich source of iron so filling up on milk between meals can limit the amount of iron rich foods consumed.


Children eating a high iron snack

Young children ages 4-8 need 10mg of iron per day.

Older children ages 9-13 need 8mg of iron per day.

  • Iron needs increase again to support growth. 

  • Iron deficiency can make it difficult for children to concentrate in school, affect their learning ability and impact their energy levels and mood.

  • 3-7% of Canadian infants and children do not get enough iron.


Teenager eating a high iron hamburger

Males age 14-18 need 11mg of iron per day.

Females in this age group need 15mg per day. 

  • Weight gain, muscle growth and an increase in blood volume during teenage years requires iron.

  • Menstruation can lead to significant iron loss.

Women of Reproductive Age 

Women ages 19-50 need 18mg of iron per day.

During pregnancy, a whopping 27mg per day is needed to help increase mom’s blood supply for the baby and ensure that baby is born with adequate iron stores.

  • Pick a prenatal vitamin that contains iron to ensure needs are met.

  • In Canada, 12-18% of adult women and adolescent girls are not getting enough iron.

Summary of Iron Requirements by Age & Life Stage

Infographic of iron needs from 7 months to 13 years old
Infographic on iron needs from 14 to 50 years old
Infographic of Iron needs in pregnancy, breastfeeding and over the age of 50

During pregnancy, a whopping 27mg per day is needed to help increase mom’s blood supply for the baby and ensure that baby is born with a hefty iron store.


Hacks to Include Higher Iron Choices Everyday

In order to make sure you and your family are getting enough iron it is important to know about iron rich foods and the type of iron they contain.

There are two types of iron found in food: Heme and Non heme iron.

Heme iron is found in animal products like meat, fish and eggs. It is more easily absorbed by our digestive system. Non-heme iron is found in plant products and is not as easily absorbed.

Although non-heme iron is not as readily absorbed it can be given a boost by combining with heme iron sources or pairing with vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables like oranges or bell peppers. 

Infographic on high iron plant based foods
Infographic on using infant cereal to boost the iron in butter

Click HERE and HERE for some high iron recipe inspirations.


Disclaimer: All the advice shared here is general information. Consult your doctor for personalized health information. Compiled September, 2020

Sabrina Mastrangelo

Special thanks to Sabrina Mastrangelo, 4th year nutrition student at Ryerson University who did the research for this post.

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