kids taking iron supplements
  /   Dr. John Snow

When Should Kids Take an Iron Supplement?

Iron is an important nutrient for children's growth and well-being. Kids need to maintain good iron levels to support muscle function and development, transport oxygen around the body, and prevent iron deficiency anemia

In a perfect world, children would get all the iron they need through their diet, but dietary choices, rapid growth, and gastrointestinal losses can all contribute to an iron deficiency. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re considering a children’s iron supplement. 

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron is a crucial mineral that plays an essential role in your child’s health and well-being: 

  • Oxygen Transport: Iron in red blood cells carries oxygen throughout the body, supporting energy production and cellular function.
  • Brain Development: Iron is crucial for proper brain growth and function, impacting learning, memory, and attention.
  • Immune Function: Iron helps the immune system fight infections, reducing susceptibility to illnesses.
  • Energy Metabolism: Iron is involved in energy production, supporting growth, physical activity, and daily tasks.
  • Growth and Development: Iron is essential for muscle, bone, and organ development, ensuring healthy growth.

Despite iron having many vital jobs to perform in the body, a surprising amount of children are deficient in iron. 

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common hematological disorder. It affects 2.4 million children in the U.S. According to The World Health Organization, about 300 million children globally had anemia in 2011, with the most common cause thought to be low iron levels. 

Your body can’t produce iron, so you have to get it through your diet. Iron deficiency anemia happens when the body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, which can leave you feeling short of breath and tired. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells, and one of its main jobs is transporting oxygen throughout the body. Other symptoms of iron deficiency anemia in children include: 

  • Pale skin 
  • Cold hands and feet 
  • Slowed growth 
  • Frequent infections 
  • Unusual cravings 

There are several reasons why kids may experience iron deficiency anemia: 

  • Dietary Intake: Sometimes, children might not get enough iron-rich foods in their diets, especially if they're following vegetarian or vegan diets or if they're picky eaters. It's crucial to ensure they're getting sufficient iron from various sources.
  • Increased Iron Needs: During stages of rapid growth, like infancy, adolescence, or puberty, children have increased iron requirements. It's a time to pay extra attention to their dietary intake to meet these increased demands.
  • Poor Iron Absorption: Certain factors can hinder how well a child's body absorbs iron. This could be due to eating foods that naturally inhibit iron absorption, having gastrointestinal disorders, or taking medications that affect iron uptake. Being mindful of these can help in managing their iron levels.
  • Blood Loss: Sometimes, iron deficiency anemia can result from chronic or acute blood loss, which might occur from conditions like gastrointestinal bleeding, frequent nosebleeds, or, in adolescent girls, heavy menstrual bleeding. Recognizing and addressing these issues early can prevent anemia from developing.

How Much Iron Do Kids Need?

So, what are normal iron levels in children? 

The answer depends on their age. As kids go through different developmental and growth stages, iron requirements can change:

  • Infants (6-12 months): 11 mg/day 
  • Toddlers (1-3 years): 7 mg/day  
  • Children (4-8 years): 10 mg/day 
  • Later Childhood (9-13 years): 8 mg/day 
  • Teenagers (14-18 years): 11-15 mg/day 

In some cases, your pediatrician can recommend a higher iron intake. How much iron for a child will also depend on certain risk factors like chronic conditions, dietary choices, or picky eaters. 

If your family embraces a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, it's important to be mindful of getting enough essential nutrients, including vitamin B12 and iron. Since meat, poultry, and seafood are the richest sources of iron, plant-based dieters need to be proactive in ensuring they meet their iron needs.

The developmental stage between the ages of 5 and 12 is particularly important. Iron deficiency in kids has been linked to impaired cognitive development and school performance. There’s evidence that a daily iron supplement is associated with a lower risk of iron deficiency anemia in this age group. But, remember that it’s essential that kids take iron supplements under the guidance of their doctor and are always monitored by adults. 

Iron requirements change through different stages of life. In the earlier years, children grow and develop. As they reach puberty, this leads to higher iron demands


Impaired iron levels can significantly impact sports performance for those who are active and regularly exercise. Exercise increases the demand for iron, and potential dietary insufficiencies can raise the risk of iron deficiency in younger athletes. 

How can I raise my child's iron level?

If you have any concerns about your child’s iron level, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare provider. Your doctor will typically perform blood tests to check for iron deficiency or anemia

So, what is a low iron level for a child? 

A blood test will check complete blood count (CBC), hemoglobin levels, blood iron levels, and ferritin levels to help diagnose iron deficiency anemia. Low iron levels can differ depending on the child’s age. When assessing, a healthcare professional will also consider your child’s medical history, recent illnesses, current symptoms, and dietary habits.  

If your doctor notifies you that your child is deficient in iron, then treatment can include eating an iron-rich diet, taking an iron supplement, or combining the two. It’s important to always defer to your pediatrician's expertise to determine the correct iron dosage for your child. 

Foods with iron for kids include: 

  • Lean Meat (chicken, turkey, lean beef)
  • Fish (tuna, salmon, halibut)
  • Beans (kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas)
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds)
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, apricots, prunes)

Pairing iron sources with foods rich in vitamin C can help enhance iron absorption. Fruits and veggies rich in vitamin C include: 

  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi
  • Bell Peppers  
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Pineapple

On the flip side, cow’s milk may make it harder to absorb iron because of the high casein and calcium. Research suggests that cow’s milk consumption has long been associated with iron deficiency in children

Iron Supplements

Some of the biggest sources of iron are animal-based, so some of the above list may not work for your family depending on your dietary needs or preferences. Anyone following a more plant-based diet, adult or child, may be at a higher risk of iron deficiency simply because they’re omitting some of the iron-rich foods. If your child’s blood tests show low iron levels, then your doctor may recommend an iron supplement. Always seek guidance from your pediatrician before introducing iron supplements to your child’s routine. 

Iron supplements can come in different forms, like capsules, tablets, chewables, and liquids. If you’re considering iron supplements, there are potentially severe side effects you need to know. 

Iron poisoning is one of the most common toxic and fatal ingestions among children. A big reason behind this is that iron supplements can sometimes look like chocolate candy to kids. It's crucial to store iron supplements in childproof containers and in a secure location inaccessible to children to prevent accidental ingestion. 

In healthy people, iron in high doses may cause stomach upset, constipation, tummy pain, and diarrhea. In extremely high doses (hundreds of thousands of mg), iron can cause organ failure, coma, and death.

If you’re considering iron supplements, your child’s age will influence your choice. That’s why it's crucial to invest in supplements designed for children with the correct dosages. For example, a toddler iron supplement will differ from one suitable for a 10-year-old because iron demands change.  

How long should kids take iron supplements?

When and how long kids take iron supplements depends on the individual child and your doctor’s guidance. In some instances, your doctor may recommend iron supplements:

  • A child has a low birth weight 
  • When the child’s diet doesn’t include foods fortified with iron 
  • If anemia is present 

The length of time and dosage of iron supplements can also differ depending on the child. 

For instance, a child following a vegan diet may benefit from an ongoing iron supplement, but another individual may only need a few months of iron supplements to restore depleted iron stores from a medical condition.

How Hiya Can Help

A team of pediatricians and nutritionists has dynamically formulated our Iron Supplement for children to support cognitive development, energy, and overall growth. While we always suggest a food-first approach to sneaking in essential minerals and vitamins into your kid’s diet, we also know it’s great to have a plan B in place. With a child-friendly iron supplement on hand, even the pickiest eaters can still hit their recommended daily intake. 

Forget about added sugar, artificial dyes, and gummy fillers. Our vitamins focus on the good stuff that kids actually need, nothing extra! All our supplements are gluten-free, GMO-free, and nut-free. They are formulated with child-friendly dosages to ensure your child receives essential nutrients at an age-appropriate amount. For best results, we suggest one chewable per day, or as recommended by your healthcare provider. As always, it’s important to speak with your doctor before considering any iron supplements, as they can provide personalized recommendations based on thorough evaluation and medical considerations to ensure your child is getting the right amount of iron for their specific age and needs. 

If you have any worries about your child’s iron levels, speaking with a trusted healthcare provider is a great first step. They can help pinpoint the reason behind low iron levels and formulate a plan to balance them now and in the future. 

As health-conscious parents, navigating the world of supplements can feel overwhelming. While it’s important to prioritize a diet of iron-rich foods like dark leafy greens and legumes, sometimes kids have a talent for avoiding the healthy part of a meal. An iron supplement for kids can help fill any nutritional gaps to help your little one hit their daily recommended intake for optimal growth and development. 

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. Please always consult with your pediatrician before giving your child iron and confirm which dosage is best for your child. 

Warning: Accidental overdose of iron-containing products is a leading cause of fatal poisoning in children under 6. Keep all iron products out of reach of children. In case of accidental overdose, call a doctor or poison control center immediately.