If anemia is identified in a child with risk factors for iron deficiency, then it is reasonable to start iron replacement without sending a serum ferritin.
Iron replacement consists of an iron vitamin, either liquid or pill, at a dose of 6 mg/kg/day of elemental iron. Taking the iron supplement with a vitamin C-fortified liquid, such as orange juice, will help the iron be better absorbed. Milk intake should be limited and an iron-rich diet should be encouraged.
If iron deficiency is the cause of the anemia, then an increase in the hemoglobin by 1 gm/dL after four to six weeks is expected. Iron supplementation should be continued for at least six weeks after normalization of the hemoglobin in order to refill the child’s iron stores.
A repeat blood count should be performed three to six months after the iron supplement is stopped to make sure the child is maintaining his or her iron stores. If there is not an improvement in hemoglobin while taking iron supplementation, then further investigation is recommended.
Sometimes the lack of improvement is because the iron is not being taken as prescribed or the child’s diet has not changed. Other times, the cause of the anemia may not be iron deficiency.