Moms Need Iron for Baby Bonding

Moms Need Iron for Baby Bonding

Healthnotes Newswire (May 5, 2005)—Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) in mothers may negatively affect their interactions with their babies and interfere with normal infant development, reports the Journal of Nutrition (2005;135:850–5).

Iron is necessary for proper oxygenation of the blood and for normal brain development in children. Deficiency of this important nutrient is very common; worldwide, more than 50% of women of childbearing age are iron deficient. Excessive menstrual blood loss and chronically low dietary intake of iron can lead to IDA. Symptoms of IDA may include fatigue, depression, shortness of breath, and general feelings of illness. Red meat, poultry, and fish are excellent sources of dietary iron. Iron-rich plant-based foods include green leafy vegetables (collards, kale, beet greens), blackstrap molasses, and legumes such as kidney beans and lentils, although the iron in plant foods is generally not as well absorbed as the iron from animal foods.

Previous studies have shown a relationship between maternal IDA and depression and anxiety, but little is known about the effects of maternal IDA on infant development and interactions between mother and child. Of the 81 women who took part in the new study, 51 were anemic. The anemic women received either 125 mg of ferrous sulfate (providing approximately 37 mg of elemental iron) per day or placebo. The non-anemic women served as the control group.

Mother–baby interactions and infant development were assessed when the children were ten weeks old and again at nine months of age. The babies and mothers were observed and their interactions evaluated based on the mother’s physical and verbal communication with her child, responsiveness to cues from the baby, positive and negative statements made to the child, playtime with the baby, teaching, goal-setting for the child, and control of activities. A pediatrician assessed locomotor, social, verbal, and hand-eye coordination skill development in the infants.

At the ten-week evaluation, the anemic women tended to relate less well to and be less responsive to their babies and to exert more control over them than did women in the control group. Infants of mothers in the control group had significantly better hand-eye coordination and more advanced overall development than did infants of the anemic mothers.

At the nine-month visit, mothers in the placebo group were more negative, set fewer appropriate goals for their infants, and were not as responsive to their babies as were mothers in the control group and mothers whose anemia had been corrected by iron supplementation. In terms of infant development, babies in the control group were significantly more advanced in their locomotor skills than the babies of mothers in the placebo and iron-supplemented groups.

This is the first study to demonstrate that maternal iron status may affect the mother–child relationship, which plays an important role in infant development. These results help to shed some light on some of the complex influences on human development.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.

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