Iron and Baby Sleep: What’s the Link?

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Many things have the ability to impact sleep. As a practitioner who takes a more holistic approach and aims to get to the root cause of the issue, I examine all of the possible sleep disruptors including nutritional deficiencies, specifically low iron (ferritin) levels.

What is Iron and Why Is It Important?

Iron is an important mineral that supports neurological development; it’s necessary to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body; and is essential in providing energy.

Iron deficiency is a common nutritional deficiency worldwide. Approximately, 39.8% of the world’s children 6-59 months are anemic [1]. Whereas, 12-64% experience iron deficiency without anemia [2].

Given an infant’s rapid growth & limited dietary sources of iron, they are at a greater risk for a deficiency.

How Does Low Iron Impact Infant Sleep

Simply put, low iron, specifically low ferritin levels, have been linked to altered sleep patterns resulting in disrupted and less restorative sleep [3-4]. For a more detailed discussion, I would suggest listening to Dr. Michelle Peris’ podcast episode here.

Parents of babies who struggling with sleep and also have low iron report:

•restless sleep or can’t seem to get comfortable

•difficulty winding down

•taking a long time to fall asleep

•long periods of wakefulness in the middle of the night

•older toddlers and children complaining of pains in their legs

•nothing seems to work to get them to sleep

• a very “clingy” child

•frequent night waking

Risk Factors

•low iron/anemia in the birthing parent

•maternal diabetes

•delayed start of solids

•vegetarian or vegan diets

•premature birth

low birth weight

•low or no meat (or other high-iron foods) intake

•gastrointestinal issues

•high intake of cows milk

Signs & Symptoms of Low Iron

Clinical symptoms of low iron are:

•restless sleep

•irritability, cranky, fussy

•poor appetite

•pale skin

•fast heartbeat

•rapid breathing

•cold hands and feet

•slowed growth and development

•frequent infections

•Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, or paint

How Much Iron Does My Baby Need?

0-6 Months: Babies are generally getting what they need from breastmilk and/or iron fortified formula

7-12 Months: 11 mg

1-3 years: 7 mg

4-8 years: 10 mg

9-13 years: 8 mg

How Do I Know If My Baby Is Getting Enough Iron?

If you are breastfeeding or offering iron fortified formula for the first 6 months followed by an iron enriched diet, your baby is likely getting what they need.

If any of the previously mentioned risk factors apply in conjunction with any signs and symptoms, it is worth a discussion with your physician or naturopath (preferred). Unfortunately, a blood test is required to know if your baby has low iron.

Should I Give My Baby an Iron Supplement?

I do not recommend giving your baby an iron supplement without first consulting your health care provider. Too much iron can be toxic, so please consult your health care provider before giving your baby an iron supplement.

However, you can cook in a cast iron pan or use the Lucky Iron Fish (*affiliate link)

Can I Prevent Iron Deficiency?

There are some things you can do ensure your baby is getting enough iron:

  • test your iron during pregnancy, eat iron enriched foods, & supplement if required
  • control gestational/maternal diabetes
  • delay cord clamping
  • breastfeed for the first 6 months or provide iron fortified formula
  • offer iron enriched foods coupled with sources of vitamin C starting at 6 months (provided your baby is showing signs of readiness)
  • don’t delay solids beyond 6 months (provided your baby is showing signs of readiness)
  • don’t offer cows milk until baby has reached 1 year and limit intake to 16-24 oz per day
  • cook using a cast iron pan or use the Lucky Iron Fish (*affiliate link)

Did your child have an iron deficiency? If so, did you impact their sleep?

Disclaimer: This post does not contain all available information on iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia and the impact on infant sleep. This post is intended for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your primary care provider.


  1. World Health Organization. Anaemia.
  2. Hartfield D. (2010). Iron deficiency is a public health problem in Canadian infants and children. Paediatrics & child health, 15(6), 347–350.
  3. Peirano, P. D., Algarín, C. R., Chamorro, R. A., Reyes, S. C., Durán, S. A., Garrido, M. I., & Lozoff, B. (2010). Sleep alterations and iron deficiency anemia in infancy. Sleep medicine, 11(7), 637–642.
  4. Peirano, P. D., Algarín, C. R., Garrido, M. I., & Lozoff, B. (2007). Iron deficiency anemia in infancy is associated with altered temporal organization of sleep states in childhood. Pediatric research62(6), 715–719.

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