Introducing iron-rich solid foods

Nutritional needs during the first year of a baby’s life (calculated by kg body weight) are three times greater for energy (calories) than the average adult woman.  Nutritional needs for other valuable nutrients such as iron, zinc and calcium are 4 – 5 times greater! Starting solids well after 6 months of age, may mean a baby is not be getting the right balance of nutrition; this is especially true for iron. A baby’s iron stores accumulate in the last 3 months of pregnancy, and are used up by around 6 months and need replacing.  Breast milk contains very little iron, but its absorption at 40-50% is superior to infant formula at around 20-25%.  The absorption of iron from breast milk reduces for an older infants, and so iron from solids become more important.  Introducing good sources of iron from 6 months of age is important for all babies irrespectively of whether they are breast or bottle fed.  This helps them learn and adapt their palate to become familiar with those foods; it also helps them develop skills with this more challenging texture. For babies born early (before 37 weeks) and especially more premature babies, limited iron storage means they are at risk of iron deficiency anaemia.  Those babies will need a prescribed iron supplement to support their nutritional needs during the first year.

nutrient needs in the early years

Calcium & Vitamin D

One of the most important nutrients combinations from 6 months of age is calcium and Vitamin D, supporting bone growth and mineralisation.  Nutritional needs during the first year show that calcium needs are at their highest at 6-12 months of age; without Vitamin D, infants would not absorb enough calcium leading to rickets and misshapen bones.  All babies need a Vitamin D supplement from 6 months of age until at least 4 years. See up-to-date advice on Vitamin D.  Weaning foods should therefore contain extra calcium from yogurt, cheese and baked cow’s milk. Cow’s milk as a drink should not be introduced until 1 year, and either breast or formula milk should be provided until then. For infants with cow’s milk allergy, specialist advice about calcium may be needed.