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The American Academy of Pediatricians Recommends Iron-Fortified Foods for Babies: Is It Really Safe?

The American Academy of Pediatricians advises doctors to recommend that parents feed their baby iron-fortified formula and iron-fortified cereal between the ages of 6 – 24 months old.

This is because:

  • Iron is absolutely necessary for the adequate movement of oxygen to all the tissues in our body.
  • Iron helps to form hemoglobin, which is the oxygen transport system in our blood.
  • Iron is necessary to prevent anemia.
Up to 50% of the iron found in breast milk will be absorbed by a baby's digestive tract, while only 5% of iron from iron-fortified foods, including formula, will be absorbed into a baby's digestive system.

If you exclusively breastfeed your child, then it is recommended that you begin giving your baby iron supplementation in the form of liquid drops at the age of 4 months. The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends this because breast milk is naturally low in iron. Breast milk also contains iron chelators, which bind to iron and reduce even further the amount of free iron available to your baby.

FACT: Iron supplementation may damage the inner ecology of the body.

As it turns out, research shows that iron-fortified foods promote the growth of intestinal bugs. Not only that, but the consumption of iron-fortified foods during infancy can alter the environment of the gut and affect overall immune function.

The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends iron supplementation. However, if you do a little digging, you will find that they also tell us:

  • Infants that are fed iron-fortified formula or who are given supplemental iron drops have a high amount of Escherichia coli in their stools.
  • The E. coli present in the stools of babies that receive supplemental iron is significantly higher than exclusively breastfed infants.
  • Exclusively breastfed infants who receive no iron supplementation have predominately Lactobacillus (a friendly bacteria) in their stools. (1) 

E. coli is a bug that is naturally present in the gut. Under the right conditions, it can quickly grow out of control and become pathogenic. An iron-rich environment in the gut helps to set up an ideal breeding place for opportunistic bacteria, like E. coli.

Iron-fortified foods can make a bad infection worse.

Even the body knows that iron levels play a big role in bacterial infection. Iron plays such an important role that during an infection, the body will literally make extra effort to stow away any free iron. This process, called iron withholding, happens in response to any kind of infection.

The body tucks away as much free iron as it can because bad bacteria love iron and need it to thrive, just like we do! This means that if there is more iron in the gut, whether from iron drops or fortified baby food, this could actually help to promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria.

One study found that in children with compromised immune function or in children with malarial disease, iron supplementation actually led to an increase in mortality rates. (2)

During the first few days of life, an infant’s gut is entirely permeable, and this is what nature intended.

Newborns have naturally permeable guts in order to educate the immune system, which largely sits just beneath the intestinal tract. In fact, an infant’s gut may not seal completely for several weeks after birth. This is why breast milk plays such a critical role in the prevention of immune-related diseases.

Breast milk educates the child’s immune system, while also prompting the gut to seal at a normal rate. Formula-fed infants not only house a higher percentage of opportunistic and pathogenic bacteria, like E. coli, but it also takes a longer amount time for the gut to close completely.

Did you know?

  • When a baby consumes foods fortified with iron, such as formula or cereal, only 5% of the iron in these foods is absorbed from the gut.
  • On the other hand, 50% of the iron found in breast milk is absorbed by the baby’s intestinal tract.

When a child consumes iron-fortified foods and only absorbs 5% iron, this leaves a large percentage of iron in the gut. Pathogenic bugs in the gut need iron as much as we do, and this extra iron will actually feed gut infection.

Nature has an intelligence beyond the education and research of medical doctors. In infants, the body naturally limits the amount of iron that it has access to. This is why:

  • Breast milk is naturally low in iron.
  • Breast milk contains iron chelators.
  • There are minimal amounts of free iron available in an infant’s gut.
This doesn’t mean that a baby’s first foods cannot be iron-rich.

In spite of popular recommendations, iron-fortified grains and cereal can do more harm than good. Besides the fact that we absorb far less iron from fortified foods, both grains and cereals contain proteins that commonly irritate the lining of the gut. This exposes the body to potential immune disorders and gut infection.

If your baby has moved onto solid foods, choose foods that naturally fortify the diet. An excellent source of iron for toddlers and adults alike is Body Ecology’s Super Spirulina Plus.

  • Super Spirulina Plus contains 50% fermented Spirulina.
  • Spirulina is naturally rich in iron, as well as all of the essential amino acids.
  • By fermenting Spirulina, it becomes far more bioavailable and delivers beneficial microflora to the intestinal tract.

Keep in mind that in many traditional practices, a baby’s very first food is liver or egg yolk, both of which are high in iron.

When choosing your child’s first foods, avoid iron-fortified grains and cereals. Instead, experiment with foods that are already rich in iron, as nature intended!

What to Remember Most About This Article:

According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, parents should give infants iron-fortified foods between the ages of 6 and 24 months. Although iron can help to prevent anemia, it may also damage the inner ecology of the body. Iron-fortified foods can promote the growth of unhealthy intestinal bacteria. This means that iron- fortified foods could make a bad infection in the body even worse.

A baby’s gut is permeable in the first few days of their life, which is why breast milk is so beneficial to boost the immune system. When a baby gets iron from fortified foods instead of breast milk, the majority of iron will remain in the gut to feed pathogenic bacteria and infection.

Iron-fortified foods for babies can actually irritate the lining of the gut. Instead, it’s best to naturally fortify a baby's diet with iron from fermented Spirulina, egg yolk, and liver to promote a healthy inner ecosystem.

Product Recommendations:

  • Super Spirulina Plus

    Super Spirulina Plus

    Detoxify and Support Cellular Health

    • A naturally fermented source of probiotics and bio-available superfoods
    • 100% fermented for increased bio-availability
    • A vegan, kosher, and Organic Certified product
    • Helps to detoxify your body, maintain a healthy weight, and boost energy


  1. Bullen, JJ., et al. Iron-Binding Proteins in Milk and Resistance To E. Coli Infection in Infants. British Medical Journal. 1972; 1: 69.
  2. Oppenheimer, Stephen J. Iron and Its Relation To Immunity and Infectious Disease. Journal of Nutrition. 2001; 131: 616S – 635s.

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  • Dr. Jana Bogs

    Thank you, Donna! This is a fantastic article. I am a research scientist focusing on increasing nutrient density in foods, particularly vegetables and fruits. Starting from the soil up, I have been able to increase nutrients in produce, such as iron, calcium, zinc, copper and protein by 2-fold (double), or in some cases up to 5-fold, over published USDA food nutrient values. I call this process "going beyond organic to nutrient-rich". As this article shows, getting nutrients in a food-matrixed form is critically important for excellent health.
    I'm excited to be able to improve the protein content and quality, especially for vegans.

    I also work with farmers and gardeners to improve their crop nutritional quality. It all starts with a comprehensive soil analysis which is interpreted for maximizing nutrient density.

    I'm writing a book about this subject, but until it's done there is a lot of info on my website.
    Aloha, Dr. Bogs

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