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Anemia And Your Toddler: Causes And Prevention

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Normally, people expect anemia to be associated with women who are pregnant or with adults who have other related health conditions. Many parents do not anticipate threat their own young child could develop anemia, and symptoms can therefore go untreated for a long time. Here are the signs of anemia in toddlers, what causes them, and what can be done to help treat the condition. 

Causes of Anemia in Toddlers

Generally, anemia in children has three main causes:

  1. The child does not produce enough red blood cells to deliver the correct amount of oxygen to the rest of the body. Often, a lack of production of red blood cells is due to diet deficiency -- most commonly, iron. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia in children. Sometimes, toddler get iron deficiency anemia from drinking too much milk. Milk prevents the absorption of iron in the body, and milk is not a good source of iron, so when milk replaces other foods the child might eat instead, it's quite possible for anemia to develop. 
  2. The child has a condition that destroys red blood cells, leading to anemic symptoms. Sickle cell anemia, for example, is a genetic condition that leads to the premature death of red blood cells. A normal red blood cell lives for up to 120 days, while a sickle red blood cell may live only as long as 20 days. 
  3. The child suffers from internal bleeding. For example, if a child has inflammation in the digestive tract, a side effect would be lower red blood cell count. Generally, internal bleeding is more noticeable to parents; bruising or bloody stools are common in internal bleeding situations.

All of the above anemia situations are quite serious and they require medical attention. As a parent, you need to recognize the most common symptoms of anemia. 

Symptoms of Anemia

Sometimes, toddlers do not know how to properly communicate their symptoms, nor might they interpret the way they are feeling as out of the ordinary, as they have no real experience or developed cognition to provide a comparison. As a parent, you'll need to watch for the following signs:

  • tiredness. This is the number one symptom of anemia. As your child's body lacks enough oxygen to operate at full capacity, they'll begin to slow down. The tiredness will manifest as sleepiness, but it will also come as sluggishness, an inability to move quickly, or a lack of desire to do anything energetic. Generally, toddlers are bursting with energy and curiosity to discover the world and play. A child whose favorite past-time is resting should raise parental red flags.
  • pale, blueish skin. This will be even more common around the eyes, lips, nails, and toes. 
  • loss of appetite. This symptom ties in with fatigue, but many toddlers, even those who are picky eaters, should show a general interest in food. When your toddler refuses food consistently over a period of several days, a check-up with the pediatrician is necessary.
  • general irritability. Every toddler throws fits and gets emotional from time to time, but these emotions should be balanced with feelings of satisfaction, happiness, contentment, and excitement. When positive emotions are missing, anemia could be the physical explanation for a persistent bad mood. 
  • a desire to eat items that are not food. If your child has an unnatural appetite for clay, ice, dirt, metal objects, or sand, this is a sign of severe iron deficiency.


For iron deficiency anemia, iron supplements are necessary to restore hematocrit levels. Depending on the severity of the anemia, your doctor may also recommend IV iron treatments. Diet changes will also be necessary to help ensure the problem does not repeat itself later down the road. Sickle cell anemia and anemia caused from bleeding require more intensive medical care. Consult your physician for more information on anemia in toddlers.