If You Breastfeed Past One Year…

Breastfeeding longer linked to slightly higher risk of iron deficiency in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Breastfeeding is recommended for at least the first year of a child's life by multiple health organizations. Women who breastfeed longer may wonder how that affects their child.

A recent study found that children breastfed for longer periods of time may be at a slightly higher risk for iron deficiency.

Iron is important for many bodily functions. It's possible that babies who are breastfed for longer are not getting enough other foods with iron. Foods rich in iron include various fruits, beans and green, leafy vegetables.

This study did not find any evidence of harm for breastfeeding a baby past one year. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years.

"Ensure your child eats iron-rich foods."

The study, led by Jonathon L. Maguire, MD, MSc, of the Department of Pediatrics at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada, aimed to see whether babies who were breastfed longer had lower iron levels.

The researchers gathered data on 1,647 children who were an average age of 3. The researchers collected information on how long the children were breastfed and on iron levels in their blood.

When the researchers calculated the relationship between breastfeeding and iron, they took into account a variety of different factors among the children.

These factors included the child's age, gender, birth weight, current weight, race/ethnicity, household income, daycare attendance, age when solid food was introduced, age when cow's milk was introduced and daily cow's milk intake.

For each additional month that children were breastfed, there was a 4.8 percent higher chance that the child would have an iron deficiency.

Children who continued to be breastfed over age 1 were about 70 percent more likely to have an iron deficiency than children who were not breastfed past age 1.

However, the researchers did not find strong results that the length of breastfeeding a child was linked to a higher risk of anemia caused by iron deficiency.

The findings of this study do not mean that breastfeeding itself causes iron deficiency. It is possible that children who breastfeed for longer may not be eating other foods that contain sufficient iron.

Iron can be found in egg yolks, beans, lentils, chick peas, iron-enriched cereals, dark and leafy greens like spinach, and dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, apricots, peaches and figs.

Strawberries and watermelon are also sources of iron, as well as sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli, string beans, kale and collards.

Meats and seafood containing iron include shrimp, beef, chicken, pork, clams, lamb, ham, turkey, liver, tuna and scallops. Also, tofu, beans, lentils, maple syrup, molasses and iron-enriched breads and grains contain iron.

Parents with concerns about whether their child has sufficient iron levels can speak to their pediatrician about those concerns to learn more. It is possible that a pediatrician may recommend multivitamin supplements for a child at risk for deficiency in iron or another mineral.

The study was published April 15 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Sick Kids Foundation and St. Michael's Foundation.

One author has consulted for Astra Zeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Smith Kline, Hoffman LaRoche, Novartis, and Pfizer, which makes iron supplements. No other conflicts of interest were noted.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 14, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013