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Daily Iron Supplements During Pregnancy Tied to Higher Birth Weight

Update Date: Jun 20, 2013 07:39 PM EDT

Taking iron supplements everyday during pregnancy is associated with a significantly increase in birth weight and a reduction in risk of low birth weight, according to new research.

A new study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that the effects were seen for iron doses up to 66 mg a day.  Researchers said that World Health Organization currently recommends a dose of 60 mg per day for pregnant women.

Iron deficiency, which is the most widespread nutritional deficiency in the world, is the most common cause of anemia during pregnancy, especially in low and middle-income countries, affecting an estimated 32 million pregnant women globally in 2011.

Previous findings have revealed a link between prenatal anemia and risk of premature birth.  However, evidence on other birth outcomes is inconsistent and the effect of prenatal iron use on adverse birth outcomes is also unclear.

Researchers in the current study analyzed the results of over 90 studies of prenatal iron use and prenatal anemia involving nearly two million women.

The finding revealed that iron use increased a mother's average hemoglobin levels compared with controls and significantly reduced the risk of anemia.

While the latest study found no significant reduction in risk of preterm birth as a result of iron use, analysis of cohort studies revealed a significantly higher risk of low birth weight and preterm birth with anemia in the first or second trimester of pregnancy.

A deeper analysis revealed that for every 10 mg increase in iron dose per day (up to 66 mg per day), risk of maternal anemia was 12 percent lower, birth weight increased by 15 g and risk of low birth weight decreased by 3 percent.

Researchers said no differences were seen in duration or iron use after adjusting for dose.

"Our findings suggest that use of iron in women during pregnancy may be used as a preventive strategy to improve maternal haematological status and birth weight," researchers wrote in the study.

Study authors recommend "rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of existing antenatal care program in high burden countries to identify gaps in policy and program implementation."

Scientists say additional studies should explore "feasible strategies of iron delivery" as well as "evaluation of the effectiveness of other strategies, such as fortification and dietary diversification."

However, another study published earlier this week in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that taking iron supplement every day was just as effective as taking them twice a week. Researchers in the study published on Tuesday found that daily iron supplementation of iron tablets did not provide any benefits in birth weight or improve infant growth compared to twice weekly supplementation.

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