How Much Iron Do Babies Need?

Iron is a Key Nutrient Mineral That Babies Need

Iron is Important!

Iron plays a critical role in helping to maintain healthy red blood cells and carry oxygen through our blood. It also helps the body’s immune system function properly by defending us against bacteria, viruses and other unsavory things that could make us ill. It is not commonly known that iron also plays a role in metabolism, regulating the body’s temperature, and it even helps to ensure healthy cognitive development. Iron is one of the most important nutrients that a  developing baby needs!  The vast majority of babies will not become iron deficient if they do not eat a fortified baby rice cereal, nor will they become iron deficient if they do not receive supplements unless there are underlying factors such as preterm birth, low birth weight or a mother who had a poor nutritional status during pregnancy.

Iron is found in two different forms, heme and non-heme.

Heme iron is the form of iron that our bodies best absorb and use most efficiently. It makes up about 40 percent of the iron in meat, poultry including eggs, (in particular the yolks), and fish.

Non-heme iron is present in animals but it makes up all of the iron in plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts). Non heme iron is not absorbed or utilized by the body as well as heme iron is.

How much iron does a baby need? What iron rich foods can I feed baby?

According to the National Institutes for Health (United States), the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Iron is:

0-6 Months: for infants from 0-6 months the 0.27 milligrams of iron per day.

7-12 Months: for babies 7-12 months, the RDA for iron increases to 11 milligrams per day.

12 Months - 4 Years: 7 milligrams per day

When a baby reaches the age of 1 year, the recommended daily allowance actually decreases to 7 milligrams per day. Once children reach the age of 4-8 years old, the iron recommendation goes back up to 10 milligrams per day. These daily recommendations apply to both male and female children.

Once girls reach the age of fourteen, their iron requirements increase more than those of boys.  The increase in iron requirements continues to be gender driven up until the age of 50 years. Some foods that are rich in iron may be found listed below. You should try to serve your infant at least 2 of these foods every day (ensure that the foods are age appropriate) once he has begun to decrease his breast milk/formula intake and begins to eat more solid foods.

How much iron is in the food I feed my baby?

You may be surprised to see exactly how much iron is in just 1 tablespoon of some common baby foods; 1 tablespoon is equal to approximately 14 grams. According to the USDA Nutrient Database[1], take a look at how much iron is in the following foods:

Broccoli: 0.09 mg 

Sweet Potato: 0.10 mg 

Beef: 0.36 mg 

Chicken: 0.15 mg (light meat) 

Chicken: 0 .19 mg (dark meat) 

Egg Yolk: 0.38 mg 


Iron in a Baby Meal of Formula or Breast Milk

While the amounts of iron in the above table may seem small, let’s put this into perspective.  If you look at the RDA for infants between the age of 7 and 12 months, you will see that 11 mg of Iron is the recommendation.

If you are formula feeding, your baby will receive approximately 1.4 mg with every 2 ounces he drinks.
If you are breastfeeding your little one he may receive less iron, however the iron he does receive will be more readily available to his body.  According to the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, it is estimated that 50 percent of the iron from breast milk is used and absorbed by babies while the iron in formula is only 12 percent utilized.

During the day, a 9 month old may drink up to 24-31 ounces of formula.  Let’s assume he drinks 25 ounces.  At 25 ounces, he would receive approximately 18 mg of iron!  You have met the 11 mg RDA and then some through formula alone!  Exceeding the RDA for iron from food or formula/breast milk sources is not harmful however overdosing with iron supplements can be dangerous. 

Iron in a Baby Meal of Meat, Veggie and Fruit

Looking at a sample meal of 3 ounces of beef, 2 ounces of sweet potato and 2 ounces of applesauce, your baby’s iron intake would be approximately: 

3 oz. of beef = 3.2 mg
2 oz. of sweet potato =0 .20 mg

2 oz of applesauce =0 .12mg 

Total Iron for Meal = approx. 3.52 mg  

To help with the absorption of iron, serve foods containing Vitamin C with a meal.

[1] USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory may be accessed at

Foods Rich In Iron

breast milk & iron-fortified infant formula

dried beans

winter squash

sweet potatoes



meat & poultry
(beef, beef & chicken liver, pork, turkey, chicken, egg yolks)

shellfish (clams, oysters, shrimp)

tuna, sardines, canned salmon


greens (spinach, broccoli, beet, kale etc...)

egg yolks

dried fruit (figs, apricots, prunes, raisins)

prune juice


(cooked cracked wheat, wheat germ, cornmeal, millet, brown rice, farina, bran, breads, iron fortified cereals)

blackstrap molasses (try adding a little to cereal when baby is over 10 months old)

brewer's yeast

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