Iron supplements for babies and children

Key points about iron supplements for babies and children

  • Iron is vital for body function. It is especially important for brain development and making new red blood cells to prevent a low red blood cell count.
  • Find out about when your baby or child may need an iron supplement (eg, ferrous sulphate, Ferodan, Maltofer, Ferro-Liquid) and how to give it.
blue unaunahi tile generic
Print this page

Iron is vital for body function. It's especially important for brain development and making new red blood cells to prevent a low red blood cell count (anaemia). Read more about iron.

Iron supplements are used to prevent or treat a lack of iron (iron deficiency). This can cause anaemia. Babies and children with anaemia are often pale and tired. They may not grow and develop properly. Iron supplements help your child to make more haemoglobin and increase their iron stores.

Examples of liquid iron supplements available in Aotearoa New Zealand are Ferodan, Maltofer and Ferro-Liquid. Other products may have iron in them. Tablet forms are available for older children. Read more about iron tablets.


  • In the last few months of pregnancy, your baby stores iron in their body to use after they're born.
  • Well-grown, full-term babies have stored enough iron to use until they're 6 months old.
  • Premature babies (those who are born early, before 37 weeks) or babies who are small (those who weigh less than 2.5 kg at birth) don't have as much iron stored in their body. What iron they do have is used up during rapid growth periods. They need extra iron to prevent iron deficiency.
  • Breast milk contains very little iron.


Low iron in children can be caused by not getting enough iron in their diet, having problems with how their body absorbs iron (eg, in coeliac disease), or from blood loss (eg, in inflammatory bowel disease).


Your baby's iron dose will depend on their weight. Your healthcare team will tell you when to start giving your baby iron medicine. This is usually from 2 to 4 weeks after birth.

  • Depending on how premature your baby was, you may need to start giving iron in hospital, or you may start giving it after you go home.
  • Your family doctor can increase the dose with each new prescription as your baby gains weight.
  • Keep giving iron each day until your child's first birthday or your doctor asks you to stop. 


Your child's iron dose depends on their weight. Your doctor may increase the dose as your child grows and gains weight. Iron may be prescribed once or twice daily. Your doctor or pharmacist will tell you how much to give your child. It takes 3 to 4 weeks for the iron stores to build up in their body. Usually iron needs to be taken for at least 3 months for it to have full benefit.

Always use a proper measuring cup, spoon or syringe to give the correct dose – don’t use a kitchen spoon. Some liquid medicines come with their own measuring cup, spoon or syringe or you can buy one from your pharmacy. Read more tips on how to give medicines to babies and children and how to use a medicine syringe.

Babies: You can give the iron with a little bit of breastmilk to make it taste better, but give the iron between meals once your baby is established on solids. 

Children: Iron is absorbed better if your stomach is empty, so try to give it 30 minutes before a feed or a meal or 1 hour after a feed or a meal.

Taste: Your child may react to the taste, but this doesn't mean it's a problem.

Bowel movements (poo): Your child's poo (bowel motions) may become a darker colour, but this is harmless. The poo can become a little firmer and some children become constipated when they first start taking iron, but this usually settles.

Nausea (feeling sick):  Iron supplements can cause nausea. If your child vomits (is sick) or spits up this may also be a darker colour. If your child vomits less than 30 minutes after giving the iron, give the same dose again. If it's more than 30 minutes after, don't give another dose until it's next due.

Free helplines

Healthline logo

Text 1737 Helpline logo

Logo with link to Māori Pharmacists website

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist, Healthify He Puna Waiora. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Last reviewed:

Page last updated: