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Iron is an important mineral involved in several aspects of health.

In fact, the body needs iron in order to make hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein in the red blood cells (RBCs) that helps deliver oxygen throughout the body (1).

Without hemoglobin, the body will stop producing healthy RBCs and without enough iron, your child’s muscles, tissues, and cells won’t get the oxygen they need (1).

Breast-fed babies have their own iron stores and usually get enough iron from their mother’s milk for the first 6 months, while bottle-fed infants typically receive a formula fortified with iron (2).

But when your older infant switches to eating more solid foods, they might not be eating enough iron-rich foods, which puts them at risk for iron deficiency anemia (3).

Iron deficiency can hinder your child’s growth. It may also cause (4, 5):

  • learning and behavioral issues
  • social withdrawal
  • delayed motor skills
  • muscle weakness

Iron is also important for the immune system, so not getting enough iron could even increase the risk of infections like the cold and flu (6).

Ideally, kids should get their iron and other vitamins from a balanced, nutrient-dense diet.

If they eat enough iron-rich foods, an iron supplement may not be needed.

Examples of foods high in iron include (7):

  • red meats, including beef, organ meats, and liver
  • turkey, pork, and chicken
  • fish
  • fortified cereals, including oatmeal
  • dark green leafy vegetables like kale, broccoli, and spinach
  • beans
  • prunes

However, some children are at a higher risk for iron deficiency and may need to take a supplement.

The following circumstances could put your child at higher risk for an iron deficiency (8):

  • picky eaters who aren’t eating regular, well-balanced meals
  • children eating a mostly vegetarian or vegan diet
  • medical conditions that prevent the absorption of nutrients, including intestinal diseases and chronic infections
  • low birth weight and premature infants
  • children born to mothers who were iron deficient
  • kids who drink too much cow’s milk
  • exposure to lead
  • young athletes who exercise often
  • older children and young teenagers going through rapid growth during puberty
  • adolescent girls who lose blood during menstruation

It’s important to talk with your doctor before giving iron supplements to your child.

Checking for anemia should be part of your child’s regular health exam but be sure to ask your doctor if you have any concerns.

Your pediatrician will conduct a physical examination of your child and ask if they’re showing any of the signs of an iron deficiency, including (8):

  • behavioral problems
  • loss of appetite
  • weakness
  • increased sweating
  • strange cravings (pica), like eating dirt
  • failure to grow at the expected rate

Your doctor might also take a small sample of blood to check your child’s red blood cells. If your doctor suspects your child has an iron deficiency, they may prescribe a supplement.

Iron is a very important nutrient for a rapidly growing child and the recommended daily requirements for iron vary by age.

Here’s how much iron your child needs (7):

  • 1–3 years old: 7 milligrams per day
  • 4–8 years old: 10 milligrams per day
  • 9–13 years old: 8 milligrams per day

Keep in mind that too much iron can be toxic. Children under age 14 years should not take more than 40 milligrams a day.

Iron supplements for adults contain far too much iron to give them safely to your child, with some products providing up to 100 milligrams in a single dose.

Fortunately, there are many supplements available in tablets or liquid formulations that are made specifically for young children.

Under your doctor’s supervision, try the following safe supplements:

1. Liquid drops

Liquid supplements work well because the body can absorb them easily and your child won’t have to swallow a pill.

The bottle typically comes with a dropper with markings on the tube to indicate the dosage level, which makes it easy to squirt the liquid straight into your child’s mouth.

Keep in mind that iron supplements can stain your child’s teeth, so be sure to brush their teeth after giving any liquid iron supplement.

Try a liquid supplement like NovaFerrum Pediatric Liquid Iron Supplement Drops. It’s free of sugar and naturally flavored with raspberry and grape.

2. Syrups

You can safely measure out and give your child a spoonful of their iron supplement with syrup.

Pediakid Iron + Vitamin B Complex, for example, is flavored with banana concentrate to make it taste better for your child and 1 teaspoon (5 mL) contains about 7 mg of iron.

However, it also contains several other ingredients your child may not need, so it may not be the best choice if you’re looking for just an iron supplement.

3. Chews

If you don’t want to deal with measuring out liquids and syrups, a chewable supplement is the way to go.

They’re sweet, easy to eat, and typically contain many vitamins in the same tablet.

The Maxi Health Chewable Kiddievite is specially formulated for children and comes in a kid-friendly bubblegum flavor.

Note, however, that these vitamins typically have a relatively low dose of iron compared to their other ingredients.

It’s also important to remember to keep the bottle locked away and out of the reach of your children.

4. Gummies

Kids love fruity gummies because of their taste and resemblance to candy.

While it’s perfectly safe to give your kid a vitamin gummy, parents should be extra cautious to keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

The Vitamin Friends Iron Multivitamin gummies are vegetarian (gelatin-free) and don’t contain any artificial flavors or colors. They are also free of eggs, dairy, nuts, and gluten.

Though you might have to take extra precautions to keep these out of the reach of your children, your kids will love the taste and will take them without any fuss.

5. Powder

A powder iron supplement can be mixed with your kid’s favorite soft foods, such as oatmeal, applesauce, or yogurt, making it a great option for picky eaters.

The Rainbow Light NutriStart Multivitamin Powder is free of artificial dyes, sweeteners, gluten, and other common allergens.

It comes in packets measured to the correct dosage for your child, and each packet contains 4 mg of iron.

Iron supplements can cause digestive issues like upset stomach, stool changes, and constipation (9).

Although they are absorbed better if they’re taken on an empty stomach before a meal, taking it after a meal may be beneficial if your child experiences any negative side effects.

Excessive iron intake can lead to serious health problems, so never give your child iron supplements without first consulting a doctor.

According to the National Institutes of Health, accidental ingestion of iron supplements caused almost one-third of accidental poisoning deaths in children in the United States between 1983 and 1991 (7).

Signs of an iron overdose may include (10):

  • severe vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • pale or bluish skin and fingernails
  • weakness

An iron overdose is a medical emergency, so it’s important to contact poison control immediately if you think your child has overdosed on iron.

You can call the National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere within the United States.

When using an iron supplement, there are several precautions you should take to keep your child safe.

First, consult your pediatrician before deciding to give your child any type of supplement.

Be sure to use supplements only as directed and call your pediatrician to address any concerns.

You should also make sure all supplements are out of the reach of children so they don’t mistake them for candy.

Try keeping supplements on the highest shelf, preferably in a locked cupboard, and make sure it’s clearly labeled and stored in a container with a child-resistant lid.

In order to maximize absorption, avoid giving your child an iron supplement with milk or caffeinated beverages (7, 11).

Pairing iron with foods rich in vitamin C, like orange juice or strawberries, can also help increase absorption (7).

Finally, keep in mind that it can take several months for iron levels to return to normal. Therefore, it’s important to use supplements for however long your doctor recommends.

There are many types of iron supplements available for kids, including:

  • liquid drops
  • syrups
  • chews
  • gummies
  • powders

It’s also important to start introducing iron-rich foods into your child’s diet as soon as possible.

Foods like fortified breakfast cereals, lean meats, and fruits and vegetables are great sources of iron, along with a variety of other essential vitamins and minerals.