If a woman experiences chronic stress late in her pregnancy, it can affect her fetus’s ability to absorb iron by up to 15%, according to a study by researchers at UW Medicine in Seattle.
In a study published in June in Scientific Reports, scientists from UW Medicine, Duke University, Germany and Argentina found that the iron needs of pregnant women in the second and third trimesters can be increased by eight, but iron absorption in fetuses could be reduced by up to 15% in women with chronic stress. The effects of iron deficiency are more noticeable in male fetuses, the investigators reported.
Given this, pregnant women should monitor their stress levels and try to reduce stress through relaxation techniques. If chronic stress persists, consider iron supplements and monitor their newborns’ iron levels during delivery, said Dr. Martin Frasch, one of the lead authors and Affiliate Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
“We established the link between chronic stress during pregnancy and neonatal iron homeostasis,” Frasch said. “The effect is influenced by maternal age and socioeconomic status or education in many cases, but it highlights the importance of more equitable health care during pregnancy as a powerful way to improve the prenatal and postnatal brain development.
Simply taking prenatal vitamins may not help, he added.
“That may not make up for the deficit we see,” he said. “Almost half of mothers are iron deficient, as it is.”
Frasch clarified that fetuses are generally robust to moderate changes in maternal iron. “What we’re seeing here is that under conditions of chronic maternal stress, male fetuses are less robust at regulating their iron health than female fetuses – and we know this can impact their neurological development afterward. birth,” he said.
The study followed 164 pregnant women in Germany who were identified as either stressed or unstressed. The fetal iron absorption of these women was compared with that of a control group. Fetal cord blood iron parameters of 107 patients were measured at birth.
The average pregnant woman needs about 30 mg of elemental iron daily to meet the new demands for additional blood volume, the developing placenta, and the growing fetus. Most prenatal vitamin combinations contain this much iron, nearly double the amount needed for a woman who is not pregnant.
Studies have previously reported that up to half of pregnant women in developed countries suffer from iron deficiencies, which in turn can lead to low birth weight or affect the neurological development of the fetus. Stress has long been known to affect fetal brain development, Frasch said. Fetal stress has been linked to later neuropsychiatric disorders such as ADHD and autism and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, he added.
Frasch was a corresponding author on another study, published in January, which reported that tracking a pregnant woman’s stress through a wearable device or regular checkups could prevent developmental delays in the child after birth.
Frasch said the next study, which will begin this summer by the same research group, will examine ways to combat stress in mothers through the use of yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques.