From Tiny Tots to Iron Troopers: Why an Iron-Rich Diet is Essential for Baby's Growth

Author Image Katie Thomson MS, RD | Cofounder

Everything You Need to Know About Iron and Baby's Growth & Development

Introducing your little one to solid foods is an exciting milestone, but what if I told you there's one nutrient that often gets overlooked in your baby's diet? Yes, we're talking about iron. Iron-rich foods are important for your baby! From building strong muscles to promoting brain development, iron plays a crucial role in supporting your baby's growth and overall health.

In this article, we'll explore why an iron-rich diet is essential for your baby's development and how you can ensure they're getting enough of this vital nutrient. You'll discover why iron is important during the early stages of life and how it contributes to the production of hemoglobin, the protein responsible for carrying oxygen to every cell in the body. We'll also debunk common misconceptions about iron and provide practical tips for incorporating iron-rich foods into your baby's meals, whether you're following traditional weaning or baby-led feeding.

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Don't let your tiny tot miss out on the benefits of iron. Join us as we delve into the world of iron-rich foods and unlock the key to a healthy and thriving baby.

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Importance of an iron-rich diet

Iron is a mineral that plays a vital role in your baby's growth and development. From the moment they are born, iron becomes an essential nutrient for their overall health. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to every cell in the body. Without enough iron, your baby's body won't be able to produce enough hemoglobin, leading to a condition called iron deficiency anemia.

Iron also plays a crucial role in brain development during the early stages of life. Inadequate iron intake during this critical period can have long-term effects on your baby's cognitive development and learning abilities.

To ensure your baby is getting enough iron, it's important to understand the signs of iron deficiency.

Signs of iron deficiency in babies

Iron deficiency in babies can manifest through various signs and symptoms. It's essential to be aware of these indicators to catch any potential iron deficiency early on. Some common signs of iron deficiency in babies include:

  • Pale Skin: Iron deficiency can cause a pale look in babies. If you notice that your baby's skin appears paler than usual, it may be a sign of low iron levels.
  • Fatigue and Irritability: Babies with iron deficiency may exhibit increased fatigue and irritability. They may seem tired or have difficulty staying awake and may be more fussy than usual.
  • Poor Appetite: Babies with low iron levels may show a lack of interest in feeding or may refuse solid foods altogether.

If you notice any of these signs, it's important to ask your pediatrician for further evaluation and guidance on how to address your baby's iron deficiency.

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Recommended iron intake for babies at different stages

The recommended iron intake for babies varies depending on their age and developmental stage. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides guidelines for iron intake in infants, which are as follows:

  • Birth to 6 months: Exclusively breastfed babies typically have enough iron stored in their bodies for the first 6 months of life. For infants receiving iron-fortified formula, iron supplementation is not necessary. 
  • 6 to 12 months: By 6 months of age, breastfed infants need iron supplementation. As your baby starts solid foods, it's important to introduce iron-rich foods. The AAP recommends introducing iron-fortified infant cereals, pureed meats, and pureed beans to ensure your baby is getting enough iron during this stage.  For infants from 7-12 months of age, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), is 11 mg/day.
  • 12 months and older: Iron-rich foods should continue to be a part of your baby's diet as they grow. Include a variety of iron-rich foods such as lean meats, poultry, fish, fortified cereals, and dark leafy greens to meet their iron needs. The IOM determined that the RDA for iron for children from 1-3 years of age is 7 mg/day.

Using Square Baby's "Nutrition Filter," you can find meals that are a good source of iron. Our top "Iron + Vitamin C" Square Meals are: Almond Butter & BananaBeet Berry, and Apple Curry Chicken!

By following these recommendations, you can help support your baby's iron requirements at each stage of their development.
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What are the different forms of iron? 

There are 2 types of iron found in foods:

  • Heme iron (more easily absorbed by your body) is found in meat, fish and poultry.
  • Non-heme iron (not as easily absorbed by your body) is found in eggs and plant-based foods such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, whole grains and some vegetables. It is also often found in foods with added iron.

Optimizing your baby's iron intake

Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron! That's why we created a nutrition filter and specifically designed our Square Meals to include iron and vitamin C. Our favorite "Iron + Vitamin C" combos include:

Foods high in vitamin C include:

  • Oranges, lemon, grapefruit
  • Papaya, kiwi fruit, strawberries, apples
  • Red, yellow and green peppers
  • Broccoli, brussels sprouts, snow peas
  • Tomatoes, white potatoes

Iron-rich foods for infants

When it comes to introducing iron-rich foods to your baby's diet, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are some iron-rich foods that you can add into your baby's meals:

  • Iron-Fortified Infant Cereals: Iron-fortified cereals are specifically designed for babies and are a great source of iron. They are easy to digest and can be mixed with breast milk or formula for a smooth and nutritious meal.
  • Pureed Meats: Pureed meats, such as chicken, beef, and turkey, are excellent sources of iron. They can be cooked, blended, and added to your baby's purees or mashed foods to boost their iron intake. 

pureed meats for baby - square baby - iron rich foods for baby 6 months

Choose from any of our "C" (animal protein) Square Meals including: Apple Curry Chicken, Mango Coconut Chicken, and Harvest Feast.

  • Pureed Beans: Beans, such as black beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are not only rich in iron but also provide a good amount of protein and fiber. Puree cooked beans and mix them into your baby's meals for an iron-packed punch.

Choose from any of our "B" plant protein Square Meals including: Almond Butter & Banana, Minty Greens, and Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie.

  • Dark Leafy Greens: Vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli are high in iron and other essential nutrients. Steam or puree these greens and add them into your baby's purees or finger foods.

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Remember! Introduce new foods one at a time and watch for any signs of allergies or intolerance. Gradually increase the variety of iron-rich foods as your baby becomes more comfortable with solid foods.

Tips for introducing iron-rich foods to your baby's diet

Introducing iron-rich foods to your baby's diet can be an exciting and enjoyable experience. Whether you're following traditional weaning or baby-led feeding, here are some tips to ensure your baby gets enough iron:

  • Start Early: It's never too early to introduce iron-rich foods to your baby. As soon as your baby shows signs of readiness for solid foods, you can begin incorporating iron-rich options into their meals.
  • Consistency and Texture: When introducing iron-rich purees, aim for a smooth and easily swallowed consistency. As your baby progresses, gradually introduce textures to encourage chewing and development of oral motor skills. Square Baby offers different textures from smooth, thick, thin and chunky to help your babe transition to table/finger foods.

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  • Variety is Key: Offer a wide variety of iron-rich foods to ensure your baby receives a range of essential nutrients. Rotate between different sources of iron to keep meals interesting and provide a diverse nutrient profile.
  • Combine Iron with Vitamin C: Vitamin C enhances iron absorption. Pair iron-rich foods with fruits high in vitamin C, such as broccoli, strawberries, lemon, or spinach, to maximize iron absorption. 
  • Be Mindful of Calcium: Calcium can inhibit iron absorption. Avoid offering dairy products or calcium-rich foods alongside iron-rich meals to ensure optimal iron absorption.

By following these tips, you can help your baby develop a taste for iron-rich foods and ensure they are getting the necessary nutrients for their growth and development.

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How to ensure your baby gets enough iron

Ensuring your baby gets enough iron goes beyond just incorporating iron-rich foods into their diet. Here are some additional tips to help optimize your baby's iron intake:

  • Avoid Excessive Dairy Consumption: Excessive dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese) consumption can interfere with iron absorption.
  • Offer Water: Introduce small amounts of water to your baby's diet after 6 months of age. Water can help prevent constipation, which can be a common side effect of iron-rich foods.
  • Monitor Growth and Development: Regularly monitor your baby's growth and development with your pediatrician. This will help ensure that they are meeting their iron requirements and are on track for healthy growth.
  • As always, consult with your pediatrician on your baby's individual dietary needs.

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How to choose the right iron-fortified infant cereals and formulas

Iron-fortified baby cereals and formulas are excellent options to ensure your baby is receiving sufficient iron. These products are specifically designed to provide the necessary nutrients for your baby's growth and development.

When choosing iron-fortified baby cereals or formula options, consider the following:

  • FDA Regulatory: FDA has specific requirements for infant formulas including 30 nutrients that must be included in infant formulas. While the FDA doesn't approve infant formula, the FDA regulatory department will address the safety, nutritional adequacy, packaging, and labeling of all infant formula. This ensures that the products meet safety and quality standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Look for the Clean Label Project: While the FDA has issued a "Closer to Zero" campaign in an effort to establish safe industry standards for toxic heavy metals in baby food, this program will not take effect immediately.

Companies such as Square Baby are using 3rd-party labs such as the Clean Label Project to test their foods for over 400 different contaminants including heavy metals, chemicals, plastics, pesticides, and other toxins. Square Baby recently earned the "Purity Award" from the Clean Label Project!

clean label project - heavy metals in baby food - square baby earned purity award

  • Read Labels: Check the labels for the iron content per serving. Aim for products that provide at least 4-5 mg of iron per serving for babies aged 6-12 months, or a total of 11mg of iron per day.
  • Consider Allergies and Sensitivities: If your baby has any known allergies or sensitivities, check the ingredient list carefully.
  • Consult your Pediatrician: before introducing any new products to your baby's diet to ensure they are suitable for their individual needs.

Iron supplements for babies

In some cases, your pediatrician may recommend iron supplements for your baby. Iron supplements are typically prescribed when your baby has been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia or is at a higher risk of iron deficiency. It's crucial to follow your pediatrician's guidance and dosage instructions when administering iron supplements to your baby.

"For the first four months, your breastfed baby needs no additional iron. The iron in their body at birth was enough for their initial growth. But now the reserves will be low and as their growth increases, so will their need for iron. At four months of age infants who are partially or completely breastfeeding should be supplemented with 1 mg/kg per day of oral iron until appropriate iron-containing complementary foods (including iron-fortified cereals) are introduced in their diet."

-- American Academy of Pediatrics

Iron supplements can come in liquid form or as drops. They should be given separately from milk or formula, as calcium can interfere with iron absorption. It's important to note that iron supplements should only be given under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

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Recipe ideas with iron-rich foods

Introducing your baby to iron-rich foods can be a creative and fun experience. Here are a few simple and nutritious recipes to help boost your baby's iron intake:

  • Iron-Packed Pureed Spinach: Steam a handful of spinach until wilted. Blend it with a little water or breast milk until smooth. Serve as a puree or mix with other pureed fruits or vegetables.
  • Creamy Iron-Rich Lentil Soup: Cook red lentils with carrots, onions, and vegetable broth until soft. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add a dash of lemon juice for extra flavor.

Short on time? Try our spinach and lentil-packed, iron-rich Square Meals "Minty Greens" and "Apple Rosemary Lentils"

  • Chicken and Sweet Potato Mash: Steam chicken breast and sweet potato until cooked through. Mash together with a fork or blend for a smoother consistency.

Save time in the kitchen and try our "Harvest Feast" puree (pictured below) packed with organic sweet potato and chicken bone broth!

Harvest Feast Deconstructed

Remember to adjust recipes to suit your baby's age and dietary preferences. Always consult your pediatrician before introducing new foods or recipes to your baby.

Get 20% Off Square Baby!

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Use code "IRON20" at checkout for 20% off your first order!

What are your favorite iron-rich sources? Share your tips and tricks on Instagram and Facebook and tag @squarebabyfood for a chance to be featured!

Founders of Square Baby - Katie Thomson and Kendall Glynn~ Katie & Kendall, Cofounders and Chief Mamas

This blog post is for information purposes only and shouldn’t be used as personal, health, nutritional, or medical advice. Always consult with your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child's health or readiness for various foods.


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