Low Iron Levels Can Affect Your Baby's Health

Anemia caused by iron deficiency is one of the most common complications of pregnancy, with 9.3 percent of moms suffering from the disorder.

But it's not just the mother who's affected by it. According to a new study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, being anemic during pregnancy can lead to asthmatic babies.

The Details: The authors interviewed 597 mothers who had taken part in studies related to asthma in pregnancy and early childhood. Some of the mothers had no history of asthma, while others either had asthma themselves or had children who developed asthma early in childhood.

Using interview data and medical records from the women's pregnancies, the authors compared anemia rates with childhood asthma rates and found that anemia during pregnancy led to a threefold increase in early-onset wheezing, a respiratory problem that develops at age one or two and leads to a 50 percent chance that a child will develop asthma by age six.

In total, 12 percent of the mothers in the study were anemic during pregnancy, mostly due to iron deficiency (as opposed to other causes of anemia, such as vitamin B12 deficiency or the destruction of red blood cells, known as hemolytic anemia). Among their children, 22 percent were wheezing by age one and 17 percent were diagnosed with asthma by age six.

Mothers who had asthma themselves who were also anemic during pregnancy saw as much as a fourfold increase in the risk their children would develop wheezing or asthma.

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What It Means: It's not entirely clear what it is about iron-deficiency anemia that affects a chid's respiratory development, says Elizabeth Triche, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at Brown University and the study's lead author. "We know that oxygen is needed to develop the airways appropriately," she says, adding that adequate blood iron levels are needed to carry oxygen from the mother to the fetus.

She cites a study from 2004 that found results similar to hers, in which mothers with low iron typically had children with wheezing levels.

However, she says, "it could be that iron deficiency is just a marker for other nutritional deficits." Prior studies have found that maternal deficiencies of selenium, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin E, and folic acid can contribute to respiratory development problems in infants.

With so much conflicting advice around, should women drink during pregnancy?

Protecting your baby's lungs during pregnancy starts with a healthy diet, and with a few other healthy behaviors:

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