Recent studies are suggesting a U-shaped relationship between antenatal iron exposure and birth outcomes. Little is known about the iron status and associated birth outcomes of pregnant women in South Africa. Our aim was to assess iron status at early, mid- and late pregnancy, and to determine associations with gestational age and birth weight in women in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In this prospective study of 250 pregnant women, we measured haemoglobin, biomarkers of iron status and inflammation at <18, 22 and 36 weeks of gestation, plus birth weight and gestational age at delivery. Associations of anaemia and iron status with birth outcomes were determined using regression models adjusted for confounders.
At enrolment, the prevalence of anaemia, iron depletion (ID) and iron deficiency erythropoie- sis (IDE) was 29%, 15% and 15%, respectively, and increased significantly with pregnancy progression. Anaemia and ID at 22 weeks, as well as IDE at 36 weeks were associated with higher birth weight (β = 135.4; 95% CI: 4.8, 266.1 and β = 205.4; 95% CI: 45.6, 365.1 and
β = 178.0; 95% CI: 47.3, 308.7, respectively). Women in the lowest ferritin quartile at 22 weeks gave birth to babies weighing 312 g (95% CI: 94.8, 528.8) more than those in the highest quartile. In contrast, IDE at 22 weeks was associated with a higher risk for prema- ture birth (OR: 3.57, 95% CI: 1.24, 10.34) and women in lower haemoglobin quartiles at <18 weeks had a shorter gestation by 7 days (β = -6.9, 95% CI: -13.3, -0.6) compared to those in the highest quartile.
Anaemia, ID and IDE prevalence increased during pregnancy despite routine iron supple- mentation. ID and anaemia at mid-pregnancy were associated with higher birth weight, while IDE was associated with premature birth. These results suggest that current antenatal screening and supplementation practices in South Africa need to be revisited.