Is your baby getting enough iron?

Babies need plenty of iron in their diet because they are growing so quickly and iron is essential for their growth and development. But what are the best sources of iron and how do you include iron in your baby's diet?

Babies need lots of iron because they are growing so rapidly. In the first 12 months, their birth weight triples. Iron helps babies grow by carrying oxygen to every part of the body. It ensures they develop physically, is essential for brain development and their ability to learn, and helps them fight infection.

Which are the best sources of iron?
Iron is found in a number of foods, including red meat. In general, the redder the meat, the higher the iron content.
But not all iron is the same. Haem iron (found in red meat,fish and poultry) is more easily absorbed, with about a quarter  being used. Whereas only about
5% of non-haem iron (found in green vegetables, bread and cereals) is absorbed. Red meat can help increase the absorption of non-haem iron by up to four times. Vitamin C has a similar effect. Eating a combination of foods high in both haem and non-haem iron helps provide an iron-rich diet.

Haem Iron Foods (Easily Absorbed)

Excellent Sources

• Liver*, kidney

• Lean beef, lamb Good Sources

• Lean chicken, pork

• Fish, including canned fish

*While liver is an excellent source of iron, it is also rich in vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for health, but too much can be harmful to babies. Limit liver to about 3 teaspoons (15 grams) a week. When first introducing liver to your baby, keep a piece in the freezer and simply grate some into simmering, almost cooked vegetables before puréeing.


Non - Haem Iron Foods (Poorly Absorbed)

• Infant cereal with added iron, porridge**

• Peas, spinach, silverbeet, broccoli, cauliflower

• Dried apricots, prunes, other dried fruit, finely chopped**

• Baked beans, cooked dried beans, lentils, split peas

• Puha, taro leaves

• Wholemeal bread (avoid coarse, grainy types)

** From 8 months


How much iron does my baby need?

Your baby’s iron needs can be met with a combination of:

• Milk feeds

• Cooked lean beef or lamb and vegetables

• Iron-fortified infant cereal with fruit to increase iron absorption

 How much food does my baby need?

Babies tend to eat according to the amount they need. Every baby is unique; some days they will eat more than other days. Offer small portions of nutritious foods each day and trust your baby to decide how much to eat. Some babies will turn their head away when full. A happy, contented baby, growing well, is the best sign your baby is getting all the nutrients they need.

Could my baby be iron deficient?

If you can tick any of the boxes below, or are concerned about your baby’s iron level, talk to your doctor or Plunket nurse.

□ Recurrent infections

□ Grumpy and irritable

□ Tired and lethargic

□ Difficulty sleeping

□ Pale

□ Feels the cold

□ Reduced appetite

□ Reduced weight gain

□ Digestive problems


For the first six months babies obtain all the iron they need from their own iron stores combined with their milk feeds. Although breast milk is quite low in iron, it is very well absorbed. Breast-fed babies rarely lack iron. By around six months of age your baby’s iron stores are beginning to run out. Iron needs increase and are particularly high between six and nine months. At this time, a range of solid food must be introduced gradually. It is important these early foods are ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ sources of easily absorbed iron such as lean beef and lamb, to ensure iron needs are met.

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And for more recipe ideas visit our baby food recipe section here.

Download the latest resource from Beef and Lamb New ZealandIs your Baby Getting Enough Iron by clicking on the image here. It's full of practical tips and easy iron-rich meal ideas for babies.

For other resources on the nutritional attributes of lean red meat for the whole family visit




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