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Iron Deficiency in Children: What Causes It and How To Prevent It

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Ruby Fernandez · Updated May 10, 2022

Iron Deficiency in Children: What Causes It and How To Prevent It

Iron is an essential mineral that your child needs for proper growth and development. It helps facilitate the passage of oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. And it also plays a role in the muscles’ ability to store and effectively use oxygen. A lack of iron in the diet can potentially result in iron deficiency in children. 

Iron deficiency can range from a mild complication to iron deficiency anemia, a condition where the body doesn’t have an adequate amount of healthy red blood cells. If left untreated, iron deficiency in children may be detrimental to your child’s future growth and development. 

In this article, we will list some causes, symptoms and treatment for iron deficiency in children. We will also list down ways to ensure that your child maintains normal iron levels.

Low Levels of Iron? You May Be at Risk of Iron Deficiency Anemia

How Common Is Iron Deficiency in Children?

Iron deficiency is a common condition that children face in the Philippines. In an online research journal, researcher Patrick Detzel writes that iron deficiency contributes the most to malnutrition among Filipino children. As such it is important for parents to be vigilant and ensure that their child’s diet contains normal iron levels for children.


What Are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency in Children?

The common symptoms of iron deficiency usually only manifest once they reach the level of iron deficiency anemia. 

Signs and symptoms for iron deficiency anemia are:

  • Pale skin
  • Fatigue
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Slow growth and development
  • Poor appetite (most common for children)
  • Abnormal rapid breathing
  • Problems with behavior
  • Frequent infections
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as starch, ice, dirt, or paint
  • Headaches or lightheadedness
  • Brittle nails
  • Inflamed or sore tongue 

How to Prevent Anemia Naturally

When Should I See My Doctor?

Consult with your doctor or pediatrician if you feel like your child exhibits signs of iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is not something that can be diagnosed and treated at home. Too much iron may also be dangerous for the child. Always talk to a doctor first if you think your child has iron deficiency. 


What Causes Iron Deficiency in Children?

Here are some causes for iron deficiency in children:

  • Poor Diet

Children need iron more than adults because they are still growing. And they mostly get iron through the food they eat. A diet that is lacking in iron leads to iron deficiency. To prevent it, avoid having your child drink too much milk. Milk is a poor source of iron, and consuming too much of it can lead towards iron deficiency. When drinking milk, children tend to get full and not eat other food items that contain higher levels of iron.

  • Blood Loss

Iron is found inside red blood cells. If your child loses blood then they will lose some iron as well. While uncommon in children, ulcers may be a cause of blood loss. Other possible reasons are parasitic infections and chronic bowel inflammation.

  • Inability to Absorb Iron in Diet

Even if you provide the proper diet for your child, it is possible that your child cannot properly absorb it. Some conditions like Celiac disease, a sickness of the intestines, can affect your child’s ability to properly absorb iron into the bloodstream.

Risk Factors

What Increases the Risk of Iron Deficiency in Children?

There are many risk factors for children and babies since they have the highest risk for iron deficiency. 

These include:

  • Being born prematurely, or with a low birth weight
  • Drinking milk besides breast milk before their first year
  • Being a breast-fed baby but not given supplementary iron after 6 months
  • Drinking formula that is not fortified with iron
  • Daily consumption of more than 24 ounces of cow, soy, or goat milk, for 1-5 year olds
  • Chronic infections
  • Lead exposure
  • Diet lacking iron-rich food
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Experiencing menstruation in adolescence

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How Are Iron Deficiency in Children and Iron Deficiency Anemia Diagnosed?

Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia are diagnosed primarily through blood tests. Other tests may include:

  • Detailed history of nutritional intake
  • A physical examination

How Are Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficiency Anemia Treated?

Treatment includes:

  • Iron supplements
  • Blood transfusion (in more serious cases)
  • In-hospital nutritional therapy

Lifestyle Changes & Home Remedies

What Are Some Lifestyle Changes or Home Remedies that Can Help Iron Deficiency in Children?

To ensure that normal iron levels in children are maintained, here are some tips:

  • Serve or choose iron rich foods.

Serving iron-rich food ensures normal iron levels in children. Red meat, seafood, or beans are some good options.

  • Serve milk in moderation.

Monitoring your child’s milk intake is a good way to ensure normal iron levels in children. Limit consumption to not more than 24 ounces if your child is still 1-5 years old.

  • Enhance iron absorption.

Another good way to ensure normal iron levels in children is to enhance your child’s ability to absorb iron. Adding vitamin C to your child’s diet can also help with iron absorption.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Learn more about Child Health here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Ruby Fernandez · Updated May 10, 2022

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