“MY 9-MONTH-OLD IS ANEMIC. SHOULD I GIVE HIM IRON VITAMINS?”
Why some infants become anemic. Developing fetuses build up a store of iron inside their body. This store of iron is used by infants during the first 6 to 12 months of life to create red blood cells. If an infant gets enough iron in their diet during this time, then this store is replenished, and the infant continues to make enough red blood cells. Some infants, however, don’t get enough iron during the first year of life, their iron store gets depleted, and they can’t make quite enough red blood cells. This is called anemia. There are usually three visible symptoms of anemia if mild or moderate. Severe anemia can cause fatigue, irritability, pale skin, among other symptoms.
Testing for anemia. Most pediatricians will perform a heal prick for a drop of blood and test it for anemia sometime between 9 and 15 months of age. This is the time where anemia occurs most often. Normal red blood cell numbers are between 11 and 14 (or 33 and 42, depending on what test your doctor does). If your child is between 10 and 11, this is mild anemia. Between 8 and 10 is moderate anemia, and less than 8 is considered moderate to severe anemia.
Treating anemia. If a child is mildly anemic, and is a very good eater, than you can get by with adding more iron-rich foods to his diet. Ask your doctor for a list of foods. If he is a picky eater, then vitamins are indicated. For moderate anemia, vitamins are very important to take. For severe anemia, your doctor will probably do more extensive testing to evaluate the cause. It usually takes about 2 months for iron vitamins to improve anemia. Your doctor will probably recheck your infant’s blood at the next check up. If your child does not improve on the iron drops, then your doctor may do additional blood tests to look for other causes of anemia besides iron deficiency.
Taking iron vitamins. They come in dropper form. Your doctor will prescribe a certain amount based on your child’s age. You can put them in food or juice. Do not put them in a bottle of milk because milk can interfere with iron absorption in the stomach. If given directly into the mouth (not mixed in juice or food), iron vitamins can discolor the teeth. This dark discoloring usually goes away when the vitamins are stopped. You can prevent this by brushing or wiping the teeth off with a washcloth.
Is iron deficiency anemia harmful? Not in the short term. Several months of anemia during infancy have no long-term health effects. However, research has shown that children who go for several years with anemia can have intellectual and learning problems later in childhood. It is therefore important to check for anemia in all children during infancy.