Thursday, 3 October 2013

Iron deficiency and mental illness in pregnant women can negatively affect babies

Janefisher125Iron deficiency and common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression in pregnant women can lead to a lower cognitive ability in babies, a recent study has found.

The study, including Prof Jane Fisher of the Jean Hailes Research Unit, took place in the Ha Nam province of Vietnam. It examined 378 pregnant women both before and after birth, and assessed their babies at 6 months of age. The study used the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (BSID) to test the infants.

It found that infants of women who had persistent iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) during pregnancy performed 77.5% worse on BSID tests than the average.

Similarly, women affected by a common mental disorder during pregnancy had infants that performed 32% worse than the general standard.

Iron deficiency is a common condition for pregnant women in developing countries, affecting as many as 36.5% of mothers.

The study suggests that there are two possible causes for IDA to adversely affect foetuses. Firstly, if the baby doesn’t get enough iron from its mother then its development will be negatively affected. Secondly, maternal fatigue as a symptom of IDA may lead mothers to be more careless with their diets, preventing their babies from accessing other important nutrients.

Anxiety and depression are also widespread conditions for pregnant women, especially in the developing world. In Vietnam, it is estimated that 30% of women in rural areas experience a common mental disorder during their pregnancy.

The authors speculate that these disorders affect children because the foetus is forced to adjust to higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone,) and this adjustment can affect the baby after it has been born.

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