Taking an iron supplement daily during pregnancy has been linked to reducing the risk of low birth weight in the baby as well as anemia in pregnant women.
Researchers examined more than 90 studies that included a total of nearly 2 million pregnant women in different countries, including China and Tanzania and found that daily iron supplements significantly reduced women’s risk of anemia during pregnancy.
“Our findings suggest that use of iron in women during pregnancy may be used as a preventive strategy to improve maternal [blood] status and birth weight,” Batool Haider, of the departments of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues wrote.
Anemia is a condition in which the body does not produce enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.
Taking iron supplements also increased women’s blood hemoglobin levels. Hemoglobin is the actual oxygen-carrying part of red blood cells.
The study published in The British Medical Journal reported for every additional 10mg of iron taken each day, up to a maximum of 66mg per day, the risks of anemia and low birth weight decreased. Birth weight was found to increase by 15g with each 10mg of iron taken per day.
The researchers did not find any relationship between iron supplements and the length of a woman’s pregnancy, the length of a baby at birth or the risk of a baby being born too small for the pregnancy week when they were born.
However, taking too much iron can be dangerous to pregnant women and the baby, so women need to discuss the amount of prenatal iron supplements she should take with a doctor.
According to DailyRx expert Andre Hall, MD who was not involved in the study, “Iron supplementation is an important component of a successful prenatal course. Routinely, obstetricians check the complete blood count at three points during pregnancy to check for low hemoglobin (the cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body and to the baby),” Dr. Hall said.
“These are at the initial visit, 28 weeks and 36 weeks,” he said. “The goal, of course, is to catch anemia early and treat with iron supplementation where appropriate. In addition to the benefits for the baby and birth weight, an additional benefit to mom is increased energy, which is a rarity for pregnant women.”
Janet Fyle, professional policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, told BBC that ensuring pregnant women had the right level of iron was important. “Women’s iron levels are checked at specific times during pregnancy. Appropriate action is taken if required, such as dietary advice or an iron supplement may be recommended. There is perhaps a need here in the UK for us to focus on ensuring better pre-conception health, so that women contemplating pregnancy can adjust their diet to include appropriate nutrients before becoming pregnant.”
She added: “The problem of serious iron deficiency tends to affect low income countries, where some women may already have poor health status before pregnancy and have the added burden of not being able to afford iron supplements.”
Future research to explore feasible strategies of iron delivery in a country setting and evaluation of the effectiveness of other strategies, such as fortification and dietary diversification, should be done, the study concluded.
Pumping Iron for the Baby
A recent study found that taking iron supplements can reduce a woman’s likelihood of developing anemia or having a baby with low birth weight.
Nutrition During Pregnancy
Two Obstetricians advise pregnant women on topics such as making sure their diet contains plenty of fresh vegetables, calcium and iron; the dangers of unpasteurized milk products and the value of vitamin supplements during pregnancy.