Iron Prevents Behavior Issues In Low Birth Weight Babies
December 10, 2012

Iron May Prevent Behavior Issues For Low-Weight Babies

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Babies born with a low birth weight who were given iron supplements during a study showed a significant improvement in their behavior once they reached preschool age.

Researchers reported in the journal Pediatrics that they found infants weighing less than 5.5 pounds were shown to have a behavior boost when given iron supplements compared to those who just received a placebo.

Research has long shown that infants with low birth weight have a greater risk of cognitive and behavioral problems compared with heavier infants. These infants are also at risk for iron deficiency, which has been associated with impaired neurodevelopment.

"The issue with these marginally low birth-weight infants is, people really haven't paid a lot of attention to them, but the evidence is accumulating that they are at risk for behavioral problems and less than ideal cognitive function," Dr. Betsy Lozoff, who studies the effects of iron deficiency in infants at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, told Reuters.

The study examined the longer-term effects of iron supplementation in 285 infants with a marginally low birth weight of 4.4 to 5.5 pounds. The participants were given iron supplements every day in two doses from six weeks of age to six months.

At six weeks, the researchers found that 91 percent of the infants received breastmilk, and 54 percent received only breast milk and no formula. At six months old, those proportions were at 67 percent and 5 percent.

When the children were about 3-and-a-half years old, they and 95 normal-birth-weight control children underwent a psychometric test. Their parents were also asked to complete a questionnaire about their behaviors.

They found that supplementation reduced the percentage of children who exceeded the CBCL threshold for subclinical behavioral problems.

The risk of exceeding the subclinical cutoff was significantly higher in the placebo group than in the combined supplemented group. There were significant differences between the groups on the "emotional reactive" and "attention problems" sub scales.

The authors said the study was limited by the lack of statistical power for subgroup analyses and by the possibility that the CBCL data were subject to parental bias.They also noted that the trial was conducted in a high-income country with a higher rate of breastfeeding.

"Additional randomized trials, exploring the effects of iron supplements in other settings and in larger populations, are needed," they wrote in the journal.

The team did not find an IQ difference between the infants who were put on an iron regimen and those that received the placebo.

Lozoff, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters that the study suggests that low-level iron supplements should be a routine practice for newborns.