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Iron Supplements and Low Birth-Weight Babies

Industry by Rosemary Tambini on September 29, 2017

Iron Supplements and Low Birth-Weight Babies

What comes to mind when you think of iron? Red meat? Lentil? Spinach? How about children’s behavior? A study published by Springer Nature in Pediatric Research journal, led by Staffan Berglund of Umeå University in Sweden, has found that iron supplementation may have positive long-lasting effects on behavioral functions in children born underweight (under 5.5 pounds). Full-term babies are born with a reserve of iron—one that comes directly from their mother’s blood while in the womb. Therefore, it is vital that the mother pays heed to her iron levels while carrying.

But first…

The basics

Red blood cells contain hemoglobin (protein that carries oxygen to all cells in the body). Our bodies need iron to make hemoglobin. Iron gives red blood cells their color. When we do not have enough iron, these red blood cells shrink and become pale. They cannot carry a sufficient amount of oxygen to our organs and muscles, making us anemic. Babies especially need iron for healthy development (caringforkids).

The study

Research hitherto has shown that babies given iron supplements had a lower risk of suffering from an iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia by the time they hit 6 months. When the subjects of this research were tested again at 3 ½ years old, those with supplementation had fewer behavioral issues than those without.

The Umeå University study involved 285 late preterm and term infants who weighed 4.4-5.5 pounds at birth. It tested 207 of the subjects in the original analysis at seven years old. Berglund and his team wanted to investigate if the iron intervention influenced the children’s cognitive and neurobehavioral abilities. The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children was utilized in assessing those abilities. No significant differences were found in the intelligence scores of the children in the two test groups (control and iron-intervention). However, a difference did appear between the two in terms of behavior. Those with iron supplementation had lower levels of aggression and showed less rule-breaking conduct. These subjects also had fewer thought problems. Because iron deficiencies affect behavior (fatigue, weakness, lack of concentration, etc.), iron deficiencies subsequently affect academic performance—which just adds to why iron is something to pay attention to. Interestingly, the thought problem area recently proved to be the best independent predictor of autism spectrum disorders. And this puts forth that the behavioral and emotional profiles of low birth-weight children without iron supplements have different symptoms of subclinical neurodevelopmental complications. Berglund states “This clinically important benefit from early iron supplementation gives further support to recommend iron supplementation of all low birth weight children, including those with marginally low birth weight” (medicalexpress).

Warning signs to watch out for

  • *slow weight gain
  • *no appetite
  • *pale skin (because of the red blood cells we discussed)
  • *irritability

The bigger picture

Did you know that up to 5% of infants born in high income countries and 15% in low income countries have marginally low birth-weights? A considerable amount.

For the first 6 months of a baby’s life, breastmilk will provide necessary iron among other nutrients. Waiting too long after 6 months to introduce other foods, however, raises the baby’s risk of iron deficiency. If breastfeeding is not an option, the Canadian Pediatric Society encourages the caretaker to use a store-bought iron-fortified infant formula for the first year of the baby’s life.

Of course dosage and age dependently vary once babies begin eating solid foods. Below is Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per day for individuals 7 months -18 years old:

  • *7-12 months: 11 mg
  • *1-3 years: 7 mg
  • *4-8 years: 10 mg
  • *9-13 years: 8 mg
  • *14-18 years: 11 mg (for boys)
  • 15mg (for girls)

To ensure that mothers, babies, and people in general maintain healthy iron levels, it is important to know our options in addition to iron tablets—one of Makers Nutrition’s many manufactured supplements. Foods rich in iron include: fish, eggs, grains, meats, broccoli, chick peas, and beans. But the list goes on and on.

It is important to recognize that even if we are eating or feeding our children iron-rich foods, many substances have the ability to reduce the amount of non-heme iron. Such substances are tannins in coffee or tea, eggs, and some types of chocolate. Calcium can also impair the absorption of both non-heme and heme iron. Thus, if individuals need more iron, they are encouraged to avoid such substances in order to help raise the amount of iron their bodies absorb. On the other hand, individuals who have too much iron, listed substances can be consumed to help lower iron levels.

If you are asking what to provide your child with, according to the Canadian Pediatric Society, full-term babies who are breastfed or get iron-fortified infant formula from birth do not need iron supplementation. Preterm infants should ingest an iron supplement by 8 weeks of age until one year old. Children older than a year do not need iron intervention unless they are not consuming enough iron from food. It is in your and your child’s best interest to contact a certified physician to check iron levels, and determine the right dosage if needed, before taking or giving any iron supplements.


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