Feeding your child a healthy diet and ensuring that they get all that their growing bodies need is a top priority for most moms. Except… it’s not that easy, as all moms know.
Continuously providing healthy food in an unhealthy society can be expensive and time consuming. And then of cause there is the small factor ignored by most nutritional guides, which is the child’s own likes and dislikes. You typically don’t only need produce healthy meals, but you need to fight a battle to get them eaten as well.
Iron and Vitamin D deficiencies in babies
Below are two nutrients of which deficiencies are extremely common, and of which currently guidelines suggest supplementing children with:
Iron deficiency is the biggest nutrient deficiency amongst children. Iron is needed to make haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the rest of the body. Low haemoglobin is called anaemia. Iron deficiency can also lead to slower growth and development, fatigue, poor appetite, frequent infections and behavioural and sleep problems. Iron deficiency can cause long term and irreversible harm to a child’s health if left untreated.
Babies are born with iron stores that they build from mom’s body during the pregnancy. These stores are usually sufficient to last them until 6 months, after which they need to start getting iron from their food. If mom had low iron levels during pregnancy, or if baby was born prematurely, these stores may not last that long and baby may need extra iron before 6 months.
READ MORE: 10 Baby-boosting Ingredients in breast milk
Foods that contain iron include iron-fortified baby cereal, red meat, chicken, fish, spinach and beans. Boost the absorption of iron by offering foods rich in Vitamin C, like strawberries, tomatoes, citrus fruits and bell peppers. It is important to add these foods (especially the proteins) to baby’s diet from six months onwards.
Healthcare professionals have different opinions on iron supplementation. Iron from supplements is typically not as well absorbed as from food sources, and it can cause constipation or diarrhoea in babies. Too much iron can also be harmful and it can make the baby prone to infections.
Currently the American Academy of Paedatrics (AAP) suggests that exclusively breastfed and partially breastfed babies should receive iron supplementation. If a baby is exclusively formula fed the mom should make sure that she is giving an infant formula that is fortified with iron. The AAP also suggest routine screening for iron deficiency between 9 and 12 months of age. This will both identify the little ones that need continued iron supplementation, as well as show us which children should be fine to continue with their diet. You should discuss both the supplements and the screening test with your doctor or clinic sister.
Vitamin D is a nutrient, but one that we don’t get primarily from food. Our bodies manufacture Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Now sunshine is a resource that our country doesn’t lack! Because of this Vitamin D deficiency has never been a great concern.
But changes in recent decades have led to Vitamin D deficiency now being a common problem. Unfortunately many healthcare professionals still don’t realise this, and the topic is typically ignored.
In order for your body to manufacture the Vitamin D that it needs, you need 10-30 minutes of no-sunscreen exposure to sunlight over the middle of the day at least twice a week to the face, arms legs or back. There are two problems with this:
- Firstly, people (including children) spend a lot more time indoors and in front of televisions, smart phones and tablets.
- Secondly, because of climate change and the hole in our ozone layer skin cancer is now a far bigger concern, and it is no longer recommended to spend this amount of time in the sun without a sunscreen.
Vitamin D is crucial for bone health in children, as it helps the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus. A shortage will lead to brittle bone and an increased risk of fractures.
Food that contains Vitamin D includes oily fish like salmon and mackerel. Small amounts are found in beef liver, eggs and cheese. Some foods are fortified, but this form of Vitamin D is not well absorbed.
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends a daily intake of 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D in babies, starting soon after birth and continuing throughout childhood. Breastfed babies will need the full amount; if baby is having only formula supplementation may start a bit later as formula has some Vitamin D added in.
Vitamin D supplements can be found in a liquid form for babies and as chewable tablets for older children. Choose a supplement that contains vitamin D3 or activated vitamin D, otherwise it won’t be effective.