Anemia is a condition where there are not enough red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells are needed to transport oxygen from the lungs to other tissues in the body, and those tissues need oxygen to stay healthy and active. When a child doesn’t have enough red blood cells, they usually feel weak and sick.
Symptoms and signs of anemia in children
These are common symptoms of anemia:
- Pale skin
- Pale-looking lips and tongue
- Less-pinky eyelids and nail beds
- Abnormally rapid breathing
- Irritability and other behavioral problems
- Cold hands and feet
- Rapid heart rate
- Slowed growth and development
- Poor appetite
- Frequent infections
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, paint or starch
- Yellowness of the eyes and skin, plus dark-colored urine
Common causes of anemia in children
Generally, the main causes of childhood anemia can be grouped into three:
Inability to produce enough red blood cells: This usually happens when iron or other nutrients needed to produce the red blood cells are lacking in a child’s diet. One example is the iron-deficiency anemia, which is, by far, the most common anemia in children.
Destruction of too many red blood cells by the body: This type of anemia usually happens when a child has an underlying illness or has inherited a red blood cell disorder such as thalassemia or sickle-cell anemia and.
Loss of red blood cells through bleeding: Blood loss can happen due to external injuries, or it can be a slow and steady bleeding in the intestines, which could be a result of food intolerance or severe hookworm infestation.
Children at risk of iron-deficiency anemia:
- Low birth-weight babies or babies born prematurely
- Babies who drink a formula that doesn’t have enough iron
- Breast-fed babies who don’t take complementary foods containing iron after age 6 months
- Children ages 1 to 5 who drink too much cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or soy milk a day as their major source of nutrition
- Children who are overweight or obese
- Children who don’t eat enough iron-rich foods
- Children who have certain health conditions, such as chronic infections or restricted diets
- Children who have been exposed to lead
- Adolescent girls because of blood menstruation
Preventing Your Child from getting anemia
To prevent Your Child from getting anemia, here are some tips that can help:
Consider iron supplements: If you are breastfeeding, Your Child will have enough supply of iron until at least 4 months of age, after which you may want to supplement with iron. Continue with iron supplementation until they are eating enough complementary foods that are rich in iron such as liver, egg yolk, minced red meat, and leafy vegetables in the likes of spinach and broccoli. For prematurely born babies, the doctor may prescribe iron supplements starting at 1 month, and the baby should continue until their first birthday. You should always discuss with your pediatrician first before you begin any iron supplementation.
Give iron-rich foods: When Your Child starts feeding solid foods, ensure you give iron-rich foods, such as lentils, beans, chicken, fish, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables.
Give vitamin C-rich foods: Vitamin C helps in iron absorption. Good sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, cantaloupe, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, and dark green vegetables.
Reduce cow’s milk consumption: When you introduce cow’s milk after the first birthday, limit it to less than 700 ml per day.
Screen for anemia: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Thai Ministry of Health, infants should be screened for iron deficiency anemia around 9 to 12 months of age, and children at risk of iron deficiency should be tested again at later ages. Additionally, the parents can also consult a doctor for an iron supplementation plan for their child at 6-24 months.
Dr. Piyawut Kreetapirom, MD. (31 March 2021)
- Guideline in Child Health Supervision, ราชวิทยาลัยกุมารแพทย์แห่งประเทศไทย
- Iron deficiency in children: Prevention tips for parents, Mayo Clinic
- How to Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia in Infants and Toddlers, American Academy of Family Physicians
- Anemia in Children and Teens: Parent FAQs, American Academy of Pediatrics