Iron Use in Pregnancy Prevents Low Birth Weight
Taking prenatal iron supplements may help increase birth weight in infants and reduce the risk of anemia in expectant mothers, according to a new analysis.
Researchers looked at the association between anemia in pregnant women and their use of iron supplements as well as the outcomes of their pregnancies. They further evaluated the iron dose, its length of use, and the measure of the womens’ hemoglobin levels while they were pregnant and after their deliveries.
(Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen that is detected by a blood test. A low hemoglobin level is a sign of anemia, a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.)
Iron Increases Hemoglobin Levels
Of 92 studies of almost two million women, researchers found that iron use substantially increased hemoglobin levels, and that higher doses of iron were more likely to decrease the risk for anemia in the mother during the third trimester. For every 10 mg of iron the women took, there was a 12 percent decrease in their anemia risk.
As for birth weight, iron use was linked to an average increased birth weight of one and a half ounces in women on higher doses of iron.
However, iron supplements did not appear to help prevent premature birth or the length of pregnancy. (Low birth weight is considered a “major public health handicap” in the United States, and is related to a higher risk of infant death and disability.)
Although the authors note that their analysis was based on a variety of studies, and not on studies specifically set up to determine birth weight, they still recommend that a pregnant woman who has anemia should take iron supplements as directed by her doctor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin containing iron, and that they should eat a diet high in foods containing iron, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts.