Anemia In Toddlers

Is your toddler getting enough iron in their diet? Iron deficiency, although being common in toddlers, can affect their development if left untreated. Read on to find out the signs of anemia and how you can treat it.

Is your toddler getting enough iron in their diet? Iron deficiency, although being common in toddlers, can affect their development if left untreated. Read on to find out the signs of anemia and how you can treat it.

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition where lack of iron leads to a reduction in the red blood cells in the body. In children, it’s usually easily treated, but it can cause serious problems, and even become life threatening, if ignored.

Let’s look at some of the causes and signs of anemia in children, and the treatment options for toddlers and younger babies.

Pediatric anemia most commonly affects children of between 9 and 24 months old, which is the toddler stage as most babies have taken their first steps before their first birthday. The most common cause of anemia is a diet that doesn’t contain enough iron.

Signs of child anemia

While mild anemia may not show any symptoms at all, there are some signs to watch out for in your toddler, including:

  • Irritability
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale skin
  • Sore tongue
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • In rare cases, craving unusual foods (a symptom of deficiency known as pica)

In severe cases signs of anemia could include:

  • Blue-tinged or very pale whites of eyes
  • Pale skin color
  • Brittle nails

Treatment of toddler anemia

It’s important to get your child seen by a doctor if they’re displaying symptoms of anemia. They will be able to advise on the best course of action.

The most natural way of treating an anemic toddler is through an iron-rich diet. The list of iron-rich foods includes:

  • Iron-fortified cereal
  • Lean meat, chicken, liver and fish such as salmon and tuna
  • Iron-fortified bread, pasta and rice
  • Leafy green vegetables (like spinach and kale)
  • Raisins, dates and prunes
  • Dried apricots
  • Cooked egg yolks
  • Legumes

As vitamin C aids the absorption of iron, you should also offer a variety of fruit and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C (for example, kiwi, avocado, guavas, bell peppers, papaya, broccoli, tomatoes, okra, potato, sweet potato, orange and cantaloupe).

While children can start drinking cow’s milk at age one, this isn’t a good source of iron, and drinking too much of it can contribute to an iron deficiency. Parents may prefer to continue breastfeeding or offering iron-fortified formula milk (after checking with your doctor).

Always make sure that any new foods you decide to feed to your toddler are appropriate for their age, and keep an eye out for any signs of food allergies.

Your doctor might also recommend iron supplements for an anemic child – but you should never give these without your doctor’s instruction, as too much iron can be poisonous. If they are prescribed, these supplements should not be given with milk as this will hinder the absorption of the iron – your doctor can advise further on this.

Anemia in babies

Younger babies can also suffer from anemia, with some babies more at risk than others, including:

  • Premature babies – babies are usually born with enough iron stores to last four to six months. However, premature babies have had less time in the womb to accumulate these stores.
  • Babies who drink cow’s milk too early

Babies shouldn’t drink cow’s milk before their first birthday. Not only is it low in iron, it can also interfere with the absorption of iron from other sources.

Babies also need more iron when they’re going through a growth spurt, which can typically occur at two, three and six weeks old, then at three and six months old.

Signs of anemia in babies

Obviously a young baby can’t tell you if they feel tired or weak – two common symptoms of anemia. It’s also difficult to tell if a baby is ‘irritable’, as crying is the only way they have to communicate their needs. There are however some signs of baby anemia that you can look out for, including:

  • Pale skin
  • Feeding less
  • Brittle nails
  • Sore or swollen tongue

Remember that a baby might not show any signs of anemia at all. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all babies be screened for anemia at 12 months old (or sooner, if premature).


Babies under six months old

It’s more difficult to treat iron deficiency in babies under the recommended weaning age of six months old, so a visit to see your doctor is essential. Babies born prematurely or at a low birth weight can give extra cause for concern. Your doctor might suggest an iron supplement for your baby, alongside his usual breastmilk or iron-fortified formula milk – but don’t ever give supplements to your baby without speaking to your doctor first.

Babies over six months old

If your baby is over six months old and eating solid foods, introducing iron-rich foods is a natural way to treat anemia. Iron-fortified cereal is a good first baby food, followed by a variety of iron-rich vegetables, legumes, proteins and fruits (see the list above for examples), then meat, chicken and fish. Your baby should continue drinking breast or formula milk as normal.

Always introduce foods to your baby at the appropriate age and keep a close eye on them for signs of any allergic reactions.

Your doctor might also recommend an iron supplement for anemic babies over six months old.

Iron deficiency anemia in babies and toddlers can usually be rectified within a month or two with the right treatment. However, anemia can occasionally have a more serious cause, so don’t delay making that doctors appointment.

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