Iron and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants: Causes & Prevention
A balance of vital nutrients in the body is essential for good health. A deficiency of any vitamin or mineral can affect the health and performance of an adult. But if a baby remains deficient in some nutrients, it can affect his or her whole life. These include iron and vitamin D deficiencies that can cause several health problems in babies and can leave behind long-lasting effects.
Effects of iron and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants:
Iron and Vitamin D are very important for the normal growth and development of infants. Iron is also involved in neurotransmission and myelin formation. And Iron Deficiency (ID) can cause growth and developmental delay, impaired immune function, cognition and memory problems, and Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA).
Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphate homeostasis. This is essential for strong bone metabolism. Vitamin D Deficiency (VDD) may cause rickets in children and musculoskeletal disorders in adolescents and adults. Vitamin D also plays an important role in immune system regulation.
Iron and Vitamin D deficiency can cause many other health issues in infants younger than 24 months. Babies at this age are rapidly growing. Deficiency of iron and vitamin D at this stage may have far-reaching effects. It might even result in type 1 diabetes mellitus.
Iron Deficiency in Infants:
Full-term healthy babies are born with enough iron store to last them for four months. They receive this iron from mothers in the third trimester of pregnancy.
Premature babies might be born with low stores of iron. And full-term infants might develop iron deficiency after four months. Some studies suggest the iron received from the placenta might last until 6 months after birth. After that, infants should be able to absorb sufficient iron from the food.
But some infants might remain deficient in iron. Here are the main reasons that can cause an iron deficiency in infants:
- Breastmilk is the healthiest food for a baby. But nutrients in it aren’t always sufficient for a growing infant. The iron content in human milk does not meet the requirements of an infant older than four months. If the child is fed exclusively on breastmilk, they might become deficient in iron. To prevent this, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends giving breastfed infants 1 mg/kg/day of a liquid iron supplement. This dosage should continue until the child can start taking iron-rich solid foods at about six months of age.
- If your child is partially breastfed but more than half of the daily feedings use human milk and the other food is not iron-rich, the child may still develop iron deficiency. For such infants too, the same dosage of liquid iron supplement is recommended.
- If your child is on infant formula, you should use an iron-fortified formula that contains 4 to 12 mg of iron. This should continue through the first year of life.
Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants:
Infants have a low vitamin D store at birth. For the first few months of life, they depend on breastmilk and sunlight for vitamin D. However, exposing a baby to the sun for a long duration is not recommended. The breastmilk might be deficient in Vitamin D if the mother is deficient in this nutrient. So, babies are vulnerable to developing Vitamin D deficiency. This can lead to several health problems including bone malformation (rickets), seizures, and difficulty breathing.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants should be given a minimum of 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin D per day, starting from a few days after birth. This is for all babies that are exclusively or partially breastfed. The daily dosage of 400 IU of supplemental vitamin D should start within a few days after birth and continue until the child is weaned to at least 1 qt (1 L) of whole milk per day. But don’t start whole milk until the child is one year old.
- If your baby is on infant formula, the additional Vitamin D supplement may not be required. Check the label of the formula to see how much Vitamin D it has. All infant feed formulas in the United States carry at least 400 IU/L of Vitamin D. This means that if your child is consuming at least 32 ounces of formula food, it is getting sufficient Vitamin D. So additional Vitamin D supplement is not required.
With proper care and precaution, you can make sure your infant is not deficient in Iron or Vitamin D. These nutrients are vital for the baby’s proper growth and strength. If you feel your infant is deficient in them, a proper and daily dosage of supplements is recommended. However, always check with your child’s pediatrician before starting any supplement. Never give your child any medicine or supplement without proper medical advice.