Date Published: 
Monday, 1 December, 2014

New article highlights the importance of treating maternal and neonatal iron deficiency

Maternal iron deficiency during pregnancy can lead to iron deficiency in infants, with potentially lifelong consequences, a new article indicates. The review explored iron status throughout the ‘first 1000 days’ from pregnancy through to two years of age, and emphasised the importance of identifying and treating iron deficiency, in addition to underlining remaining research gaps.

Low iron stores during pregnancy not only cause anaemia, associated with weakness, fatigue, reduced cognitive performance and diminished immune response, but may also increase the risk of delivery complications and perinatal mortality. Maternal iron deficiency has also been associated with irreversible cognitive and behavioural deficits for the infant, likely mediated through reduced birth iron stores and subsequent iron deficiency in infancy1–6. The authors proposed that the ‘first 1000 days’ framework may help identification and treatment of iron deficiency.

The authors explain that iron therapy recommendations for new mothers are based on the assumption of lactation-induced amenorrhoea and do not take into account that many women begin or end pregnancy with iron deficiency7. Iron therapy (2–4 mg/day) is advised for preterm infants and those with low birth weight. However, iron requirements for infants under the age of six months are not well defined because individual needs are difficult to estimate, and for older infants, different methods of assessment lead to varied estimates of iron requirements.

The authors conclude that infants are vulnerable to iron deficiency, and consequences of iron deficiency in this population are wide-ranging and long-lasting. However, because of the links between maternal and neonatal iron status, interventions in infants alone are insufficient to reduce levels of infant iron deficiency; the improvement of maternal iron status is also critical. The authors explain that there is currently an unmet need in approaches to identification and optimal treatment of iron deficiency in both mothers and their infants.

The full article is available in the October 2014 issue of Nutrients. For information on iron deficiency in obstetrics and gynaecology, please click here.