If you suspect your child has anaemia, get a proper diagnosis from a doctor before you begin treatment. Anaemia can be temporary or chronic, mild or life-threatening. It has many causes, and treatment depends on cause.
Once your child has been diagnosed, there are many steps you can take to restore iron to their system and prevent future complications.
The most important thing is to establish the cause of the anaemia. For the purpose of this article I shall only be looking at iron deficiency anaemia caused by fussy eating. It may be that some of these tips will also help other forms of anaemia, but check with a doctor if you are unsure.
What are the common signs and symptoms of anaemia?
Like anything, not everyone with iron deficiency anaemia will experience the same symptoms, some people may have all the symptoms and others only one perhaps. In addition to this, symptoms will vary in severity from one person to another.
- Pale, grey, or “ashy” skin
- The lining of the eyelids and the nail beds may look less pink than normal
- Mild weakness
- Tiring easily
- Children experiencing red blood cell destruction may become jaundiced (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
Why is iron deficiency anaemia common in toddlers?
Every red blood cell in the body contains iron in its haemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to the body’s tissues from the lungs. This means that the body can’t make hemoglobin, so it makes fewer red blood cells. This is a condition called anaemia.
Anaemia can be common in toddlers because it is a common age to develop a pattern of fussy eating. As toddlers are growing and changing and also testing boundaries they can often go from being good eaters as babies and transform into fussy eaters.
This can be both frustrating and distressing for parents, but you are not alone – this is a common problem during the toddler years. Toddlers who consume a large amount of milk are at greater risk because milk hinders the absorption of iron.
As parents it is always a very tricky balancing act. Often fussy eaters are happy drinking milk, and as parents we would rather they had something in them. The dentist will tell you the only safe thing for children to drink is water and milk, and yet you can end up with an anaemic child if they have too much milk and not enough iron-rich foods. Can we ever just win at parenting?
Difficulties dealing with anaemia
The approach to dealing with anaemia caused by fussy eating over a significant period of time will be different to dealing with other causes of anaemia for a couple of specific reasons. Firstly, one of the things that you will read or be told by health professionals is “to make sure your child gets lots of iron-rich foods”! You don’t say!
Of course, as parents we know that if that was possible our child wouldn’t have become anaemic in the first place. At the point that you’ve explored every creative way to try and get iron-rich foods into your child (spinach, red meat, red kidney beans and so on) without success you need a re-think. You may be able to get foods that are fortified with iron (like some cereals, some gingerbread and so on) into your children, so that is a step in the right direction. If their anaemia is severe though, that won’t be enough to solve the problem.
The other thing you might be told is to give your child iron supplements. Again, this is not as simple as it sounds. Fussy eaters are very sensitive to taste and texture and iron-deficiency also changes your taste buds, so anything with iron in can taste like blood. You can end up in a horrible cycle of not being able to increase food intake or supplements because things taste so bad due to the iron deficiency and so you just go around in circles.
Trial and error
With fussy eaters it can be a case of trial and error. What works for one won’t work for another, so you need to just keep trying things until you find what works for your child.
If they will only drink milk and water that can be one of the hardest situations, as it is very hard to to hide any iron supplement in either milk or water. If they will drink juice you might find it easier to hide some supplements. One that works well with juice is Spatone. It comes in sachets and you can get plain or apple flavour. Either can be hidden quite well in apple juice, cranberry juice, blackcurrant or orange squash etc and if you happen to be out and about and grab a Fruit Shoot or something similar, you can easily take the lid off and add a sachet and they will never know.
Spatone comes with added Vitamin C which helps the absorption of iron, so by adding it to a juice rich in Vitamin C you will also be helping it to absorb into your child’s system.
If your child won’t drink juice but perhaps would drink a hot chocolate, you can try adding a dose of Fereglobin Liquid to the hot chocolate. Just stir it in once it’s heated and ready to drink. Feroglobin Liquid contains gentle iron to help support haemoglobin and red blood cells. It provides an organic form of iron citrate complex for improved absorption making it gentle on the stomach, along with B vitamins and supporting trace minerals, blended with honey and Swiss Alpine Malt.
If you use something like Nesquik instead of regular drinking chocolate, you will also be increasing the iron intake as Nesquik contains iron.
If your fussy eater is also a fussy drinker then you have your work cut out. You can try getting them to choose their own cup, you can try different kinds of straws, you can try getting them to blow bubbles and then suck them up, you can try a challenge or a race – basically you do whatever works. Be prepared though because often what works one day might not work the next.
There are lots of supplements out there, it’s a matter of finding out what works for your child.
Fussy eaters sources of iron
Whilst you are figuring out which supplements work for your little one, you will need to try and get foods with iron into them as well. I’ve talked at the start about how difficult this can be so look for foods that you might get into your fussy eater.
Some gingerbread has iron in it, some cereals like Rice Krispies and Cheerios have iron in. Also some crackers, normally the ones also high in fibre have iron in, and I’ve mentioned Nesquik already. That applies to all flavours. You can buy pasta fortified with iron but it is quite different to regular pasta, so that might not go down too well with a fussy eater.
Keep reading, keep researching and keep trying different things. Once their iron levels start to increase, you may well find that their taste buds start to change and the range of foods they will eat also improves.