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Your baby probably doesn't need to take supplemental iron drops – at least not for the first four months. Then it depends on whether she's formula fed or breastfed and whether she's eating solid food.
It's important for babies to get enough iron, because a deficiency can cause serious delays in growth and development and have long-term effects. In general, though, healthy, full-term infants get enough iron from their mother in the last trimester of pregnancy to last them for the first four months of life.
(The answer is different if your baby was born early. Premature babies have less of an iron reserve – and need supplements – because they don't get sufficient iron stores from Mom in the last trimester. The earlier a premature baby is born and the faster that baby is growing, the sooner she'll need iron supplementation.)
Once your baby starts eating solids (typically at 4 to 6 months, as iron reserves start to run out), you can help her meet the requirement by feeding her iron-fortified cereals, puréed beef, and other iron-rich foods.
If your baby is breastfed and not eating solid food at 4 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends an iron supplement of 11 milligrams (mgs) per day. That's because unlike formula, breast milk contains little iron, and your baby's own dwindling iron stores won't be sufficient to make up the difference. Once she starts eating iron-rich foods, she probably won't need the supplement.
It's important not to give your baby cow's milk until after her first birthday, too, because it interferes with the body's absorption of iron. Cow's milk is not high in iron and can replace foods with high-iron content. It can also irritate your baby's intestines, causing a slow loss of blood – and therefore iron – in the stool.
The doctor will check your baby's iron level with a blood test at the 12-month checkup. (Premature babies are checked earlier, usually at 6 months.) If the results show a shortage, the doctor may recommend boosting your baby's iron with food or with a supplement. Another blood test will be done a month or two later to make sure iron levels are where they should be.
Don't give your baby an iron supplement "just to be sure." Studies have shown that too-high levels of iron are potentially harmful. If you're concerned about iron levels, talk with your baby's healthcare provider. He can easily check her hemoglobin and recommend the proper amount of supplementation, if needed.
Safety note: Iron supplements can cause serious liver damage if a child takes too much. So if your child or anyone in your family requires iron supplements at any time, be sure to store them safely out of reach and follow dosage instructions carefully.
Learn more about iron deficiency anemia.