According an original investigation, published in JAMA Network on September 18, 2019, early maternal anemia can lead to autism in the baby. The timing of anemia during pregnancy can seriously impact developing a fetus.
The researchers have found an association between early maternal anemia and many mental disorders. These include increased risks of autism, intellectual disability, and ADHD in children.
On average, about 15 to 20% of pregnant women suffer from iron deficiency anemia worldwide. Most of the time, mothers receive the diagnosis of different types of anemia at the end of pregnancy. The reason is that fetus takes up more and more iron at that time from the mother.
In general, very few pregnant women are diagnosed with anemia in their early pregnancy.
The researchers In the current study observed the relationship between early anemia diagnosis in the mother and the fetal neurodevelopment.
They included 300,000 pregnant women and about half a million children born in Sweden during 1987-2010.
Findings of the study regarding mental health
Only 1% of mothers have a diagnosis of anemia before the 31st week of pregnancy. Among all, 5.8% of women were diagnosed with anemia. Out of them, only 5% of mothers received their diagnosis early in pregnancy.
Researchers observed the children born to anemic mothers with their diagnosis before 31st week of pregnancy. In these children, the risk of autism, intellectual disability, and ADHD development was high.
Among the early anemic mothers, autism was present in 4.9% of children as compared to 3.5% of children born to healthy mothers. 3.1% of babies suffered from intellectual disability as compared to 1.3% of children born to healthy mothers.
Similarly, 9.3% of children had a diagnosis of ADHD when compared with 7.1% healthier children.
Researchers also considered the effect of family income and age of the mother. In children born too early anemic mothers, autism risk was 44% higher than children born to healthy mothers.
Moreover, the risk of ADHD was 37% higher in the children of anemic mothers. But most alarming was the risk of intellectual disability among such children, which is 120% higher than in healthy children.
Dr. Renee Gardener said that different parts of the fetal nervous system develop in different stages of pregnancy. Therefore, early exposure of the fetus to maternal anemia can affect their brain different than late exposure. The results can be severe and long-lasting.
Effects on baby due to early maternal anemia
Aline Marileen Wiegersma, MS, the first author of this investigation report says that the early diagnosis of anemia was associated with infants born small for the gestational age. However, later diagnosis led to the birth of babies large for the gestational age.
The babies from mothers with late anemia diagnosis had better iron supply than the other group of children.
The researchers told that the findings are most probably the result of iron deficiency anemia in mothers. Therefore, iron supplementation can serve as a protective factor in maternal care during pregnancy.
The researchers also highlighted the importance of early screening of mothers for anemia diagnosis. They emphasize on nutritional counseling as well.
Researchers compel to conduct more researchers on the effect of iron supplementation in early pregnancy on fetal development. An adult woman requires 15mg iron per day. The need further increases during pregnancy.
Therefore, mothers should consult physicians to know about their body needs for micronutrients.
The study findings are published in the journal of JAMA psychiatry.