My Toddler has “Milk Anemia”

Jason had his first visit to the hospital and I have some serious MOM GUILT. In all fairness, I thought I was doing what was right, but in reality I should have educated myself more and been more proactive with my toddler’s eating habits. How many times have you heard, “My toddler is just so picky! He won’t eat anything but chicken nuggets!”? We have heard it countless times. We also hear that toddlers grow out of it and they won’t eat like that forever. What we don’t hear is the serious nutritional deficiencies that are happening inside the bodies of our babies. I hope that I can share my story and educate someone out there and prevent this from happening to another little toddler out there!

First let me preface this with the fact that this isn’t all about my kid only eating chicken nuggets. He does have a well balanced diet. He eats three meals a day and I give him A LOT of variety. What did lack was my persistence in making sure he ate almost all of his food when he would fight me. He would take some bites of his food and say his was full and drink all of his milk with his meal.

THIS is where the problem came in. Did you catch what was so terribly wrong? My toddler was drinking milk! You think, “What is wrong with him having a glass of milk with his food or before he goes to bed?” That is what I thought too. I would pat myself on the back and think, “At least he isn’t drinking juice!” I was SO WRONG. Jason drank anywhere from 24-32 oz of milk a day. This was his drink of choice. He loves milk and I loved that he loved milk because I assumed it was full of vitamins. Milk is good for you in limited amounts. However, sometimes drinking too much milk can cause problems. This is where Jason ran into some serious health problems.

“Toddlers can run into problems if they drink too much cow’s milk(more than 24 ounces a day) and eat fewer iron-rich foods, like red meat and green leafy vegetables. Cow’s milk is not a good source of iron. In fact,milk makes it harder for the body to absorb iron and can contribute to iron-deficiency anemia.”- Kids Health Online

Jason was drinking too much cow’s milk and it was preventing his body from absorbing the iron he needed. This and the fact that he didn’t like to eat very many iron rich foods, led him to become anemic.

Now you are thinking, “How did you find out he was anemic!? Is my kid anemic?!” We found out by luck and a persistent pediatrician!

Our story started when Jacob was born. He had a different pediatrician than Jason because of the hospital I was delivering at. When we took Jacob to his 1 week check up the pediatrician commented on how pale Jason looked. He asked if he had ever had blood testing done and we said yes, he had blood tests done for his one year physical with his pediatrician. Again, when we took Jacob in for his two month check up, the same comment was made. We didn’t think too much into it since Jason has fairly pale skin as it is.

I decided I should switch the kids to have the same pediatrician to make it easier and schedule both of their checkups at the same time. So I changed Jason to Jacob’s pediatrician and scheduled them their well-visit appointments together.

Flash forward a week later and Jason got the stomach bug! I personally think it was food poisoning from a restaurant we ate at, but that’s a total different story. So Jason throwing up every 30 minutes landed us in the new pediatrician’s office to get checked out. While we were there, he again mentioned how pale Jason was and requested we get some blood work done. He gave us the paperwork to get it done before Jason’s 3 year old appointment we had coming up, that way we could talk about his results at his well-visit exam. Easy enough right?

Jason’s pediatrician also mentioned he had a heart murmur. Which was strange, since we had never heard of him having one before. So he referred us to a cardiologist to have his heart checked out too, just to be safe. We didn’t think too much into it since Dad had a heart murmur as a kid too.

We waited a few days to get his blood work done, because I wanted Dad to be home to help out. I was terrified to get his blood work alone. We get his blood work done, easy peasy, and move on with our day.

Well this is where it gets exciting! I get 3 missed phone calls and 2 voicemails at 2:30 am from a private number. My phone was charging in the other room, so I didn’t hear it (Thank goodness because I probably would have FREAKED OUT even more so). My husband hands me my phone at 6 am and I think, “Wow, that’s weird that I have missed calls and a voicemail.”

This is the phone call no parent wants to get. The pediatrician is telling me my son is extremely anemic and I need to take him to the emergency room ASAP. WHAT?! How could I not tell? How is he sitting right next to me and I need to take him to the ER?! We load up as fast as we can and take him in.

Here we are at the ER getting blood tests done to determine why my son is so low iron. Waiting to see what is wrong with your child is the worst. You feel so helpless and just want to know what you can do to fix this. We wait and finally our results came back.

Jason has an iron deificinecy due to drinking too much MILK. His body wasn’t able to absorb the iron he was eating because of how much milk he was drinking. He was also drinking so much milk that he wasn’t eating as much as he should have been. I thought it was normal toddler behavior with refusing to eat, which it partially was, but it led to this. I FELT AWFUL. Serious MOM GUILT.

So, how do we fix this? Jason has to take an iron supplement 3 times a day and continue to eat his well balanced meals (but MORE of it). Oh, and NO more milk on demand. He is only allowed to have MAX 8 ounces a day. I had no idea that milk could do this!

So that is where we are now. We are trying to raise his iron levels, which isn’t an overnight fix. This can take up to 6 months to a year to make a full recovery. Oh, and that heart murmur? That is a side effect of low iron too. His poor little heart was working EXTRA hard to pump oxygen through his body. The heart murmur should subside once we fix this iron problem! Who would have known?

All of this because of a trip to the doctor for a stomach bug and he looked a little pale! So now I probably freaked you out and you are wondering what do I look for in my toddler?

  • tiredness and weakness
  • pale skin, especially around the hands, nails, and eyelids
  • rapid heartbeat or a heart murmur
  • irritability
  • low appetite
  • dizziness or feeling lightheaded

In some cases, a child with iron-deficiency anemia may develop “pica”, a craving to eat nonfood items such as paint chips, chalk, or dirt.

Now that you know what to look for, let me just say that I never knew Jason had low iron. I didn’t even see these symptoms in him myself. Now that I look in hindsight I can see some missed signs, but ultimately it was a good call by our pediatrician and some blood tests. I would have never known.

It is also important to note that you should not diagnose this on your own. If you suspect your child has low iron, then you need to seek a medical professional and talk about your concerns. Too much iron can lead to acute iron poisoning, which is very serious as well.

If anything, I encourage you to do that annual check up for your kids and do the blood work that goes along with it. Even if you are nervous to take your kids to get the blood work done, do it just to make sure everything is okay.

Oh, and don’t drink too much milk and continue to feed them well balanced meals (as hard as this may be). Trust me, getting him to eat all his food is still a struggle, but it is well worth it and the best thing we can do for him.

After all of this, I am just so happy we caught it when we did and we are on the road to recovery!


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