How are Universal Iron Supplement Policies Affecting Iron Deficiency in Pregnancy?

iron deficiency in pregnancy

A review analyses the impact of universal iron supplementation policies on women with iron deficiency in pregnancy and their infants.

Red blood cells are important because they are responsible for carrying oxygen to different areas of the body. Iron is a nutrient needed by the body because it plays a key role in the generation of new red blood cells. Several studies conducted in countries all over the world have shed light on the global public health issue that is anemia iron deficiency in pregnancy. For example, one study reported that the total number of cases of anemia during pregnancy ranged widely from 17-31% in Europe and North America to 53-61% in Africa, and 44-53% in South East Asia. Anemia is a condition that occurs when there are not enough healthy red blood cells in your blood.

Researchers recently reviewed the existing literature on the topic of anemia in pregnancy, iron supplementation policy, iron deficiency in pregnancy, and iron status in pregnant women in the United States and Canada to understand whether iron supplements cause any harmful health effects for infants. The results of this review were recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. These researchers also wanted to find out how different factors such as diet and obesity affect pregnant women’s responses to iron supplementation (positive or negative).

The authors searched previous studies related to iron status in pregnancy and universal iron supplementation policies in the US and Canada. They then selected a sample of those studies to critically analyze and identify trends, or gaps in research. After reviewing various studies, the authors concluded that the results of numerous studies do not seem to support the effectiveness of iron supplementation before pregnancy to improve health outcomes for mothers or infants.

After looking at the results of many different studies, the researchers identified the following areas where data or knowledge is lacking: how the mothers’ iron levels before a study begins affects their body’s responses to iron supplementation, how sources of dietary iron (plant versus animal sources) affect mothers’ responses to prenatal iron supplementation, and how mothers’ iron levels impact infant development in the womb and the iron levels the infant is born with and needs for the first six months of life.

The detailed summary and critical analysis of the existing literature on this topic provides evidence that more longitudinal data (data collected by studying the same participants over a longer period of time) is needed to further our understanding of the potential benefits and problems involving universal iron supplementation policies in North America. Longitudinal data can also help to inform iron supplementation recommendations for pregnant women in the future.

Written by Melissa Booker


O’Brien, K. O., & Ru, Y. (2017). Iron status of North American pregnant women: an update on longitudinal data and gaps in knowledge from the United States and Canada. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

WebMD. (2017). Dietary Iron and Iron Supplements. Retrieved from