Screening Tests for Infants

Print this page
Share this page:
Not everyone in this age group may need screening for every condition listed here. Click on the links above to read more about each condition and to determine if screening may be appropriate for you or your family member. You should discuss screening options with your health care practitioner.

Iron deficiency anaemia

Infants grow and develop rapidly and need iron in their diet to for their normal development. For the first 4 to 6 months, an infant can rely on their body's own storage supply of iron. After that, if an infant does not consume enough iron, there is a risk of developing iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency can cause anaemia which means that the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body is impaired. Anaemia can lead to tiredness and increase susceptibility of infants to infections. Iron deficiency anaemia occurring in the infant / toddler may also cause immediate and longer term problems of intellectual and behavioural development in childhood.

Premature and low-birth-weight babies are at greater risk of iron deficiency. Breast-fed babies, on the otherhand, usually obtain enough iron unless the nursing mother's own supply is low. Early use and overuse of cow's milk exacerbates existing causes of iron deficiency in infants.

Less often, iron deficiency anaemia may be occur due to a severe blood loss. It may also occur if there is something interfering with the body's ability to absorb iron, such as a medication the infant is taking or a chronic illness.

Risk factors for iron deficiency anemia in infants and young children include:

  • Premature birth or low birth weight
  • Infants with ethnic minority groups
  • Households with a low income or living in poverty
  • Prolonged milk feeding, where milk remains the main food source after 6 months
  • A lack of iron containing foods in the weaning diet of infants
  • History of:
    • Medications that interfere with iron absorption, or
    • Extensive blood loss, or
    • Chronic infection or inflammation, or
    • Restricted diet

Recommendations

The current UK policy is that screening for iron deficiency anaemia in infants should not be conducted. Rather, the Institute of Child Health recommends that the emphasis should be on prevention of iron deficiency by promoting a healthy diet. Advice for the prevention of iron deficiency includes:

  • If an infant is not breastfed, then infant formula (with added iron) should be used, rather than cow’s milk, for the first 12 months.
  • If an infant is breastfed, then a variety of weaning foods should be provided to the infant from 6 months of age.


Links

Iron deficiency anaemia in toddlers
NHS choices: Baby's first solid foods