Iron is essential in forming the central nervous system and healthy physical and mental development. It is involved in the functioning of the circulatory, muscular, and immune systems, thyroid gland, skin, etc. Being a part of hemoglobin, iron ensures oxygen transport from the lungs to the tissues and carbon dioxide in the opposite direction. The situation with myoglobin is similar: iron provides oxygen to skeletal muscles and heart muscles. Besides, iron participates in synthesizing DNA, proteins, enzymes, neurotransmitters, and new cells, ensuring normal cell metabolism and helping cleanse the body of toxins. It is difficult to overestimate this element’s importance for ensuring a growing organism’s normal life activity.
Iron for Babies
The babies are born with an iron reserve for approximately four to six months. Iron naturally occurs in breast milk, providing the baby with the necessary amounts of all the trace elements. The WHO recommends that all babies are breastfed for at least six first months of their lives or more. The daily need for iron depends on age, weight, and physiological condition.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says a term baby needs about 1 mg of iron per 1 kg of body weight. Iron from breast milk is more valuable because it is better absorbed, having over 50% bioavailability. To reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anemia, formula-fed infants must receive iron with the baby formula. Unfortunately, the iron in baby formulas is less absorbable than that from breast milk. Iron absorption from such a mixture is about 5% in premature babies and 7-12% in healthy infants born at term. For this reason, most American baby formulas are rich in iron.
Why Do Some Formulas Have Lower Iron Content?
There is an opinion that excessive iron content in baby formula can cause such symptoms as colic and constipation. However, there is not enough medical evidence that these conditions are caused by iron. Besides, sometimes, formula feeding causes simultaneous loss of small amounts of iron due to possible slight bleeding from the digestive tract. It is the result of the effect of cow protein on the infant’s intestines. This bleeding is invisible to the eye, but it occurs often. This should be considered to maintain the correct supply of iron from artificial sources (other than breast milk).
However, parents shouldn’t demonize the iron contained in baby formulas. Early supplementation with iron may affect the development and health of babies whose mothers have chosen not to breastfeed. Iron covers the needs of an infant for hemoglobin and prevents anemia resulting from a deficiency of this element. There are also no medical contraindications to using formulas rich in iron.
Low-iron baby formulas are not recommended in the USA by AAP since it is believed that they increase the risk of iron-deficiency anemia. According to the pediatricians, low-iron formulas are the ones containing less than 6.7 mg of iron per 1 liter.
Do European Organic Baby Formulas Contain Enough Iron?
There are no strict requirements for iron content in baby formulas in the EU as in the USA. Such European brands of baby formulas as HiPP, Holle, and Lebenswert maintain a level of around 0.76-0.99 mg/100 ml. This relates to the formulas dedicated to babies at the age of 0 to 6 months when the baby’s iron reserve is high. These brands comply with the EU standards and the minimal recommendation of the WHO.
Still, such iron levels may be too low for babies at risk of iron-deficiency anemia, such as premature babies and infants with low birth weights, whose iron reserves may be lower than those of full-term babies.
Do HiPP Baby Formulas Contain Enough Iron?
HiPP Dutch Formula Stage 2 contains 1.0 mg of iron per 100 ml, and HiPP Dutch Formula Stage 3 contains 0.9 mg of iron per 100 ml. These follow-on formulas are intended to be used after the baby’s six months as part of a mixed diet for infants already receiving complementary food. These formulas have a higher iron content than infant formulas since iron becomes particularly important for children at the age of six months.
The need for iron in babies depends on their age, weight, and physical condition. While in the EU, there are no strict requirements on the iron content in baby formulas, the US healthcare organizations require American manufacturers to produce formulas with high iron content to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. There are particular pros and cons of feeding a baby with iron-fortified formula, and it is up to you to decide which product to choose for your little one. Still, we always recommend checking with a healthcare specialist who knows your baby’s overall physical condition and nutritional needs and can help you select an appropriate product for your infant.