Iron Supplements During Pregnancy May Increase Birth Weight
Pregnant women who take iron supplements before 20 weeks' gestation may help increase the birth weight of their babies, according to a new study in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003;78:773–81). The results of this study suggest that iron supplementation, even in the absence of iron-deficiency anemia, could significantly reduce the number of complications and healthcare costs associated with low-birth-weight infants.
Infants are considered to have low birth weight if their weights are below 3 pounds, 5 ounces (1,500 grams). Low birth weight affects 1 in 14 babies in the United States and often occurs in infants born prematurely. Several studies suggest that cigarette smoking can cause low birth weight, although other genetic and environmental factors have been implicated as well. Complications of low birth weight include lung and breathing problems, anemia, brain abnormalities, behavioral problems, difficulty maintaining normal body temperature, and feeding problems. Children born with low birth weight often require extended hospital stays until they are more stable.
In the new study, 513 pregnant, non-anemic women with low iron stores who had not yet reached 20 weeks' gestation were randomly assigned to receive oral ferrous sulfate containing 30 mg per day of iron or placebo until 28 weeks' gestation. After 28 weeks, women in the iron group received either 30 mg or 60 mg per day of oral iron, depending on the degree of iron depletion, for the duration of their pregnancies. The mothers’ red blood cell counts and ferritin levels (a measure of iron depletion) were monitored periodically. The infants’ birth weights and weeks of gestation were recorded at delivery.
Compared with infants born to the women in the placebo group, the children born to the women in the iron group were significantly heavier (by more than 200 grams) at delivery. Women taking iron supplements were 76% less likely to have a baby with low birth weight than were women taking the placebo. No significant increases in red blood cell counts or ferritin levels were observed in the iron-treatment group. However, iron-deficiency anemia is common during pregnancy and supplementation with iron may reduce the severity of anemia.
The mechanism by which iron supplementation prevents the development of low birth weight is yet to be clarified. Recent studies suggest that infants with low birth weight may be at greater risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease as adults. Pregnant mothers considering taking iron should consult a healthcare provider, since some women cannot tolerate iron or it may not be an appropriate treatment. A simple blood test can determine whether iron therapy is safe.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
Copyright © 2003 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Healthnotes® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Healthnotes, Inc. Healthnotes Newswire is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Healthnotes, Inc., shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Healthnotes and the Healthnotes logo are registered trademarks of Healthnotes, Inc.