FITS Data on Breastfeeding & Iron Intake

Mother breastfeeding baby in her arms

Test Your Knowledge

What is the top complementary food source of iron and other essential vitamins and minerals for infants?

  1. Mixed Dishes and Meats/Protein
  2. Vegetables
  3. Infant Cereals
  4. Fruits
  5. None of the above

According to data from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016, 18% of all infants between 6-12 months fall short of the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for iron (Bailey et al, 2016 open_in_new).

Starting around 6 months, infants need iron from foods to meet their iron needs and ensure adequate iron intakes to minimize the risk of iron deficiency and associated developmental delays. Based on NHANES data, 15.1% of children 1-2 years of age are iron deficient (Gupta, 2017). And while meats and some vegetables are rich in iron, Abrams et al open_in_new showed that about 4% of infants 6-12 months of age are consuming. In contrast, infant cereal consumption was the top food source of iron at 34% for this critical age group. Additionally, a 2020 study by Finn et al revealed the following findings:

  • Nearly all breastfed babies (96%) and most mixed fed babies (70%) who do not eat infant cereal fall short on iron in their diet.
  • When breastfed babies eat infant cereal, they do much better for iron intake. Only 19% of breastfed babies consuming infant cereal not getting enough iron.
  • When mixed fed babies eat infant cereal, very few fall short on iron intake (5%).

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans open_in_new also recognize that infants who are primarily breastfed need infant cereal to help meet their iron and zinc needs.

As the US continues to make advances in increasing the prevalence of breastfeeding in the US, iron-rich complimentary food sources are more important than ever. Therefore, it is important for healthcare providers to recommend iron-rich foods like infant cereal for both breastfed and formula fed infants.