Extra iron prevents smaller babies

Women who take iron supplements during pregnancy have a lower risk of having low-weight babies.

A research team examined how iron, and the lack of it, effects pregnancy outcomes. Iron deficiency is a common worldwide nutrition problem and can cause prenatal anaemia in mothers and increase the risk of babies being born prematurely.

It is thought that some 32 million mothers are affected by anaemia around the world and the World Health Organisation advises mums-to-be to take 60mg every day during their pregnancies.

There have been very few studies into how iron can affect births, but a team of British and US scientists have used more than 90 different kinds of research into prenatal iron use and anaemia covering as many as two million women. They discovered that if pregnant women take iron supplements of as much as 66mg a day, they reduce the risk of developing anaemia and they also raise their haemoglobin levels.

The researchers found no evidence to suggest that higher iron levels reduce the risk of premature birth, but mums who were anaemic during the first two trimesters of their pregnancies were more likely to give birth to babies of low weights compared to those with normal iron levels.

Commenting on the research findings released in the BMJ (British Medical Journal), the authors suggest use of iron during pregnancies to prevent health problems for mothers and low-weight babies. They also said nations where iron deficiencies are common should examine the effectiveness of their antenatal care and consider giving mums-to-be the iron supplements.

Copyright Press Association 2013

Ask the expert

Got a question?
Our team of medical experts are ready to help.