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There's a lot of scare mongering from the medical establishment when it comes to breastfeeding. Statements such as 'breastmilk is low in substance x or y so you should be supplementing' are common. Yet there are reasons why things are as they are, naturally.
Iron is essential in the transportation of oxygen between tissues in the body. Iron is a macro nutrient, which means it is required by the adult human body in quantities that are over 100mg per day.
For your exclusively breastfed babyBreastmilk is naturally low in Iron. Indeed, when we compare breastmilk to formula or cow's milk, there's a much lower occurence of iron.
However, there is a reason for this:
- Iron in breastmilk is optimal for human babies and gets optimally absorbed. Formula needs to be fortified in iron (read artificially enhanced), which results in an extremely high iron level, because these are not optimal for the human baby and very little of this iron is actually absorbed.
- The low level of iron in breastmilk may very well be nature's way of protecting a baby against infection, as bacteria need iron to grow.
- Cow's milk attacks the lining of the gut and causes bleeding, which causes iron to seep out. Introducing cow's milk at a young age can therefor actually cause anemia, even though the iron level of the cow's milk may be higher (If you want to find out more about this, I suggest you read the article by Dr. Jay Gordon cited below)
|Source: Anton Nossik|
So what about when your baby moves on to solids?Baby's original iron stores from when he was born are sufficient to cover at least the first six months of breastfeeding and also a couple of months beyond that. If after this, your baby starts eating a healthy and varied diet, there should be no worries about his iron intake. (This is, if your baby was born term and with a healthy birthweight, check the KellyMom article about supplementation cited below if you want to find out which babies are indeed at risk for iron deficiency.)
Optimal iron intake though diet happens when your child eats a diet with a high level of vitamin C and Iron, as the body needs vitamin C to metabolize iron.
Good sources of iron: blood products, liver, green leafy vegetables, molasses, egg yolk, nuts and meats.
Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding - WHO
Is Iron Supplementation Necessary? - KellyMom.com
Breastfeeding and other Foods - International Breastfeeding Centre
Anemia in Children - Dr. Jay Gordon