Woooohoooo! Anya’s anemia has been resolved (for now, at least).
After 6 weeks of taking the iron prescribed by the doctor we went for another appointment at the pediatrician’s and did a finger prick hemoglobin test. Anya’s hemoglobin level was 10.8. You will remember when they first tested it , it was 10.1. ‘Normal’ is 11 to 14.
I was happy with this new reading – her iron levels were going up and were almost normal…. the doctor was not. He said the levels weren’t raising fast enough. So he sent us to do more in depth blood analysis to rule out any possible conditions belying the anemia (such as Thalassemia, for example).
We could have gone straight to do the test that day but I chose instead to delay it by another week or so, to see if an extra push at home could bring Anya’s iron levels up. I was really unhappy with the iron the doctor prescribed. It is the standard pharmaceutical one – which is basically an inorganic form of iron which is very hard for the body to utilise. On top of that they add artificial sweetners and preservatives – why??? That is the first time I put such unhealthy stuff into my baby and prescribed by a doctor, no less. I mean, I really like our pediatrician he is a nice guy and very supportive but I think, like many doctors, he is not so much into reading the minucea of drug labels – as long as the iron is in there, he is happy. The ‘details’ matter to me. This is my daughter’s health we are talking about.
Normally, I would just march down to the health food store and buy a natural equivalent. That is what we did when the doctor told us, at birth, to supplement Anya’s diet (well, her breastfeeding) with Vitamin D. We followed his advice but went and got an all natural one. Unfortunately, I asked at the pharmacy and they didn’t have an iron supplement without additives (or at least without sweetners) and neither did Wholefoods – not for babies under the age of one! The closest I could find was a kids version of Floradix which clearly contains iron (based on the list of green veg and other ingredients) but does not disclose how much and is more centered on the vitamin content of its ingredients [I am assuming this is because toxicity from iron overdose is one of the leading causes of infant death - touchy subject, really]. In any case it says not to give it to children under the age of one. That is, I am guessing, because it contains honey which can carry the botulism spore. Adults high-acid digestive system will destroy this spore but babies’ under the age of one, will not. Anyway, the upshot is that there was no off-the-shelf, all natural, easily absorbable iron I could find for a young baby.
Why does this matter? The issue with the cheap form of iron the pharmacy’s will give you is that it is not the kind that is naturally occurring in food. The kind they give you is not easily recognised by the body as a food stuff/ nutrient and consequently is very hard to absorb, from my understanding. It causes constipation and the feces go very black – what is that doing to the poor little digestive system of my pure little baby? Naturally occurring iron is found in great concentration in foods that are absolutely not constipating like green leafy vegetables beans and avocado, for example.
So, I spoke to my dad (the natural medicines practitioner) and he suggested I give Anya a green food supplement. We went for Dr. Brock’s Power Plants. It is designed to be not only super-absorbable but also extremely alkalising to the body. This was perfect as, so far, Anya has been raised vegan (though neither of us, parents are – we just feel she is pure and should be given the chance to chose whether she wants to eat the flesh of animals who have been killed for this purpose and often raised for this, too – but that is a whole other post, really…)
We shifted to giving Anya much more of the green food supplement and pretty much phased out the pharmaceutical iron (which clearly wasn’t working that well, anyway). Then, onto the blood test about ten days later.
I have got to tell you the actual blood drawing was probably the most traumatic thing Anya has experienced since her birth. It was really horrible. It took 3 nurses to try and find a (tiny baby’s) vein and with me holding her down so she wouldn’t hand undo all their work. They had to stick a needle in her three times and it left humongous bruises. It was all rather stressful (I know much worse things can happen… but it felt like a bit of an ordeal – I am very blessed that this is our biggest challenge to date).
The results? Anya’s doctor phoned back a few days later to say she was completely in the clear. Her hemoglobin levels were now 12.5 and all other indicators were normal. What a huge relief. But wait, let’s do the math: so in six weeks of taking the pharmacy’s iron her hemoglobin level went up from 10.1 to 10.8 – that is 0.7 points. In about 10 days of taking the green food supplement it went up by 1.7. That means that in ten days it went up more than twice as much as it did in the previous six weeks.
Honestly, I haven’t researched the biology of iron absorption – perhaps it is cumulative and the horrid-iron did all the good work first and the supplement just came in at the last moment and stole all the glory… but it does not look like that. It certainly seems like it was the green supplement that did it, not least because the doctor clearly wanted it to have gone up faster in the first place and then seemed surprised it had gone up so much in that final stint. I have not had a chance to speak to him in person yet. It might be interesting to see what he has to say on the subject when we next meet.
In any case, my mother’s heart is now (temporarily at least) at rest. The doctor’s words were that ‘she no longer needs to take iron’. That is huge and a huge comfort. I can let out a big sigh and stop worrying so much about getting enough iron-rich foods in Anya’s diet, etc. I was becoming almost obsessed, focussing on a single nutrient above all others – which is clearly not good, either.
I am sooooo happy Anya is better, is responding to the natural iron and, all-in-all, as far as we know (knock on wood) healthy. Phew.
We have, of course, discontinued the iron-filings-style-pharmaceutical-concoction; we are, however, continuing to give Anya the green supplement albeit at a slightly lower dose. I can tell you her digestive system is certainly reacting a lot better now. I am taking it, too, as afterall the most likely cause of her anemia is that I am anemic too (and hence had little or no iron to pass on to her in my milk). Ironic (or symbolic, somehow) that Anya may have got sick because I am not taking good enough care of myself. If ever I needed a reminder… I need to stay well to care for my baby – both my and her health and wellbeing depend on it.
Friendly disclaimer: this article is meant only to describe my personal experience and is based on my opinion. It is not meant to replace proper, professional medical advice.