12 January - 20 June 2016

Increased intake of iron during pregnancy increases the size of the baby

21 May 2015

A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that there could be a link between iron deficiency during early pregnancy and small for gestational age (SGA) babies. Alwan et al. compared serum ferritin, transferring receptor and their ratio levels with size at birth and preterm births. By examining these biomarkers in maternal serum samples rather than looking only at haemoglobin, signs of iron deficiency may be detected earlier. The study found an association between first trimester maternal iron depletion and an increased risk of SGA. No link between iron deficiency and preterm births was found.

Iron deficiency is the leading single nutrient deficiency in the world and nearly half of all pregnant women worldwide are affected. Currently in the UK, pregnant women are only screened for anaemia which is the extreme of iron deficiency. If serum ferritin was to be tested at an early stage of pregnancy, the study suggests that it may be possible to mitigate or prevent adverse birth outcomes using iron supplementation and detailed dietary advice.
Research would be required to assess the cost-effectiveness of such a routine testing and selective supplementation approach on a population level, taking into account country-specific prevalence rates of SGA and iron deficiency in women of childbearing age.

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