Iron is important in organ-system development, especially for the brain. Risk factors for iron deficiency in newborns include iron deficiency and diabetes in their mothers, as well as smoking during pregnancy. Preterm birth, low birth weight and multiple pregnancy are also well-known risk factors for low iron.
This is the first study to suggest that stress experienced by mothers early in pregnancy is another risk factor for iron deficiency in newborns, according to the researchers.
For the study, researchers looked at Israeli women who lived in an area where more than 600 rocket attacks took place during their first trimester of pregnancy. This stress group was compared to a control group of women who lived in the same area but became pregnant three to four months after the rocket attacks ceased.
Tests on umbilical cord blood collected from the newborns showed that the 63 babies born to women in the stress group had significantly lower iron levels than the 77 babies born to women in the control group.
“Our findings indicate that infants whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy are a previously unrecognized risk group for iron deficiency,” study leader Rinat Armony-Sivan, of Ashkelon Academic College, said in an American Academy of Pediatrics news release. “Pregnant women should be aware that their health, nutrition, stress level and state of mind will affect their baby’s health and well-being.”
Doctors might consider doing additional blood work before the well-child visit at 12 months of age, especially in high-risk populations, in order to detect iron deficiency early and treat it before it becomes chronic and severe, Armony-Sivan suggested.
The study was slated for Sunday presentation at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Boston. Data and conclusions presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Although the study found an association between maternal stress and infant iron deficiency, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.