Iron deficiency is a widespread health concern,- especially in many developing countries like India. It has already reached epidemic status, and it is essential to raise awareness about this issue to resolve it. When iron deficiency occurs during pregnancy, it can become the leading cause of anaemia in new-born. It happens because many women go through their pregnancy without reaching the minimum required iron intake.
Maternal iron deficiency can have significant effects on a new-born baby. Iron deficiency is a global nutritional problem affecting up to 52 per cent of pregnant women, out of which many are symptomatic, this issue must be paid sufficient attention to during pregnancy. An inadequate weight gain during pregnancy is an essential indicator of iron deficiency.
During pregnancy, iron deficiency anaemia impairs maternal and foetal health, thereby putting both the mother and baby at risk. When new mothers suffer from this condition, they often face difficulty breathing, fainting spells, fatigue, heart palpitations, and poor sleep quality. It also increases the risk of perinatal infections, pre-eclampsia, and bleeding. Postpartum cognitive impairment and behavioural difficulties have also been reported. Adverse perinatal effects include intrauterine growth retardation, prematurity, and low birth weight. These effects carry significant mortality risks, especially in developing countries.
Iron deficiency during early pregnancy is more detrimental to foetal growth than anaemia which develops later in pregnancy. It can also increase the risk of premature birth. Additionally, iron deficiency is directly linked to poor socioeconomic status and contributes significantly to not just maternal health but also negatively impacts the development of the new-born baby. All these contributing and correlating factors must be considered for any successful public prevention or treatment program.
There is no doubt that iron is essential for metabolism and nerve function. This is because iron deficiency leads to anaemia and alterations in the brain energy metabolism with defects in neurotransmitter function and myelination in the child. Therefore, new-born babies with iron deficiency anaemia are at risk for developmental disorders that affect cognitive, social-emotional, and adaptive functioning.
Adequate iron intake is essential for a healthy pregnancy. However, in many developing countries, good nutrition may not always be available to pregnant women across socio-economic barriers. In such cases, iron supplementation should be made a part of their diet early in the pregnancy. There is a growing need for public health strategies to educate the public about the need for a healthy diet and iron supplementation before conception, or at least during early pregnancy. Integrate this information into educational curricula, premarital counselling, and prenatal care. Mothers should receive appropriate nutritional advice and supplements at their first meeting with a healthcare professional.
-~Dr. Prantar Chakraborty, Haematologist, Fortis Kolkata