Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby, and up until around 6 months, breast milk is all your baby needs. Or if they are not being breast feed, an infant formula product is the only suitable alternative for the first year of life.
At around 6 months (but not before 4 months) when baby is showing developmental signs of being ready for food, they are ready to embark on their solids journey!
A balanced diet is important for good health, so offering your growing baby a variety of foods will encourage them to eat well and get plenty of nutrients including iron.
Iron is an essential mineral for the healthy growth and development of your baby. Iron is needed for carrying oxygen in our blood, our muscles and brain and strengthening our immune system.
Babies are born with a natural supply of iron, but by six months it starts to run low and they need more iron than what breast milk (or infant formula) can provide alone. From around 6 months of age babies need additional foods containing iron. Offer iron-rich first foods and then continue to offer daily, to prevent iron deficiency.
A few tips to maximise iron intake:
Offer iron-fortified baby cereals: Farex® iron-fortified infant rice cereals are a good source of iron and make a great first food. They can be prepared with baby’s usual milk (breastmilk or formula) for a familiar taste. Start with a smooth, runny texture and as baby gets older the texture thickness can be gradually increased. Small amounts of iron-fortified infant rice cereals can also be added to recipes such as cooked and pureed fruits and vegetables to thicken and help increase iron intake. All of the Farex dry infant cereal range are fortified with iron and are specially formulated for each important developmental stage. So once your baby is older, you can try some of the other infant cereals for more flavour and texture variety.
Meat is full of iron: The type of iron present in meat (haem iron) is more easily absorbed than the iron in plant foods (non-haem), so lean red beef, lamb, pork, chicken and fish are all good sources of iron. The more red-coloured the meat is, generally the higher the iron content - so beef and lamb are up there with the best sources of iron! You can offer cooked puréed meat to your little one once they start solids. For older babies finely chopped soft slices of meat are good as finger food. If liver is offered, limit to 10g (about 1 teaspoon) per week, as it is very high in Vitamin A.
Plant foods contain iron: Although not as well absorbed as iron from meat, cooked pureed legumes (like chickpeas, lentils, green peas), and steamed and pureed leafy green veges (like broccoli, spinach, choy sum) are first foods containing iron.
Foods high in Vitamin C help iron absorption: You can help your baby absorb iron from 'non-meat' foods by including Vitamin C rich fruit and vegetables at meal times. Lots of fruit and vegetables contain Vitamin C including capsicums, broccoli, tomatoes, mandarins, oranges and kiwifruit. An idea for lunchtime is to offer some mashed kiwifruit after baby's meal for a Vitamin C rich fruit with lunch.
Milk: Provide breastmilk (or formula) until your baby is at least 12 months old. The iron in breast milk is well absorbed, and formula is made with added iron. Cow’s milk is low in iron and is not suitable as a drink for babies until 12 months onwards.
If you are concerned your baby is not getting enough iron in their diet, or would like more information, reach out to your Plunket nurse, a dietitian or qualified health professional.
Ministry of Health. 2021. Healthy Eating Guidelines for New Zealand Babies and Toddlers (0–2 years old). Wellington: Ministry of Health.
The materials published on this website are of a general nature and have been provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your medical practitioner or a qualified health provider for any further advice in relation to the topics discussed.