All babies and toddlers need iron for healthy brain development. But the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition says up to 15 percent of babies aren't getting enough iron. They're newly urging pediatricians to screen all infants for iron deficiency around a year of age.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, is a pediatrician and author of Seattle Children's Seattle Mama Doc blog. She helped sort out the new guidance.
"This is dramatic. This is a big shift in our recommendation," she said.
Dr.Swanson said iron deficiency is hard to spot and hard to measure with blood tests. But untreated iron deficiency can affect a child's learning and development.
"When you test their ability for vision, possibly, when you test their ability to interact or remember, they may be slightly not as advanced as their peers if they were iron deficient as an infant and child or early toddler," she said.
Which babies are at risk? The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition report said preemies or low birth weight babies could be iron deficient. Babies at risk of iron deficiency also include infants who are exclusively breast fed beyond four months of age, children who drink cow's milk instead of iron fortified formula before a year of age, and children born into families with low socioeconomic status.
There are simple remedies. Good dietary sources of iron include iron fortified baby cereal, iron rich fruits and vegetables, legumes and shellfish. There are more tips, said Dr. Swanson.
"Eating meats, increasing the amount of vitamin C that a child eats at the same time they are taking iron rich foods. We know that that increases the absorption of the iron," she said.
Dr. Swanson cautioned parents not to go overboard. She said young children can suffer iron overload. And acute iron poisoning is a real danger for children.
"You're right to be cautious about iron. It's worth talking to your pediatrician about your concerns about iron before starting a supplement on your own."
One group of babies is already routinely screened for iron deficiency. Babies on the WIC federal nutrition program are watched for low iron levels.
If you decide to have your baby or toddler screened for iron deficiency, it will likely begin with a blood test, but may include a combination of screening techniques.