Obese Mothers Have Iron-Poor Babies, New Study

obese mothers at risk for iron-poor babies

Obese mothers run a higher chance of having babies with lower levels of iron, according to a new study of 30 women by Tufts University researchers which was published last week in the Journal of Perinatology.

And that’s a problem because babies who lack iron can’t form enough healthy red blood cells. A normal baby is born with some iron already stored in the body, but the need for iron is so critical that the National Institutes of Health recommended that all babies should be screened for iron deficiency between the ages of nine months and two years old.

But why would having a heavier mother affect a newborn’s iron levels? The answer may link to the obese mother’s fat cells, which react as if they think they’re infected, leading to the body reacting as if it had a “low-grade, chronic inflammation.”

The senior author of the new study, Simin Nikbin Meydani, explained that one of the things the body does in that situation is to dump extra hepcidin, a hormone that balances iron levels, into the bloodstream. In its effort to protect the obese mother from losing more iron, the hepcidin apparently blocks the transfer of the critical mineral to the fetus.

Iron deficiency anemia in babies fell significantly 1960 and 1980, but the risk must always be monitored because insufficient iron at that age can leave to lifelong consequences including reduced mental, behavioral, and motor functioning.

There are also concerns that the rising obesity epidemic could reverse some of the health gains we’ve made since the 60s. Megan Greenlaw reported in November that the high infant mortality rate in Mississippi has been linked to the high obesity rate in that state. Mississippi has been the number one state for infant mortality in the United States for years, and it consistently ranks as number one or number two for obesity as well.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reported last fall that the rate of serious complications from childbirth are now rising in the United States.

As frustrating as it can be to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy, the new study represents more bad news for obese mothers and mothers-to-be.

[photo obese woman courtesy Mallinaltzin and Wikipedia]