Background: Fetal and neonatal brain iron content is compromised at the time of anemia, suggesting that screening for iron deficiency by measuring hemoglobin is inadequate to protect the brain. Reticulocyte hemoglobin (Ret-He) reflects iron-deficient (ID) erythropoiesis prior to anemia. Methods: At postnatal day (P), 10 and 20 iron-sufficient rat pups were fostered to ID dams to produce a postnatal ID (PNID) group, which was compared to 20 iron-sufficient (IS) pups fostered by IS dams. Pups were assessed from P13 to P15 for hemoglobin, hematocrit, reticulocyte count, and Ret-He. Hippocampal iron status was assessed by transferrin receptor-1 (Tfrc-1) and divalent metal transporter-1 (Slc11a2) mRNA expression. Results: At P13, brain iron status was similar between groups; only Ret-He was lower in the PNID group. At P14, the PNID group had lower Ret-He, hematocrit, mean corpuscular volume (MCV), and reticulocyte percentage (RET%). Tfrc-1 expression was increased, consistent with brain iron deficiency. Both Ret-He and MCV correlated with brain iron status at P14 and P15. Conclusions: Ret-He was the only red cell marker affected prior to the onset of brain ID. The clinical practice of using anemia as the preferred biomarker for diagnosis of iron deficiency may need reconsidering.