pp 1–9 | Cite as

Dietary iron absorption during early postnatal life

  • Sheridan L. Helman
  • Gregory J. AndersonEmail author
  • David M. Frazer


Inadequate iron levels during early life can have adverse consequences for the developing infant. Iron deficiency during this critical period of growth can affect brain development and cognitive function, problems that can be lifelong despite subsequent correction of the iron deficit. Therefore, it is critical that the suckling infant has sufficient iron for their developmental needs. Much of the iron used in the immediate post-natal period is stored iron that was acquired from the mother in the final trimester of pregnancy, however, despite having low iron levels, breast milk can also make a significant contribution to infant iron needs. This reflects the ability of the suckling infant to absorb dietary iron far more efficiently than is possible after weaning. The mechanisms underlying this enhanced iron absorption are poorly understood. The iron export protein ferroportin is essential for this process, as it is in adults, however, the role of other molecules normally involved in iron absorption following weaning is less clear. The composition and distribution of iron in breast milk may be important, as could the contribution of more distal parts of the gastrointestinal tract. This review discusses the potential role of each of the above components in intestinal iron absorption during suckling and highlights the need for further research into this important process.


Breast milk Iron absorption Suckling DMT1 Hepcidin Ferroportin 



SLH is the recipient of a PhD Scholarship from the University of Queensland.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Iron Metabolism LaboratoryQIMR Berghofer Medical Research InstituteHerstonAustralia
  2. 2.School of MedicineThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  3. 3.School of Chemistry and Molecular BioscienceThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  4. 4.School of Biomedical SciencesThe Queensland University of TechnologyGardens PointAustralia

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