Chronic stress in the last months of pregnancy can reduce a growing fetus’s ability to absorb iron by up to 15%. The corresponding study was published in Scientific Reports.
Pregnant women need an average of 30mg of elemental iron per day to meet the demands of their growing fetus. Prenatal vitamin supplements often contain this much iron, which is almost double the requirement of women who are not pregnant.
Studies have shown that up to half of pregnant women in developed countries are iron deficient, which can lead to low birth weight. It can also negatively affect the neurological development of the fetus.
For the study, researchers followed 164 pregnant women in Germany who identified as either ‘not stressed,’ or ‘stressed’ by the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale-10 questionnaire. They then measured fetal cord blood iron parameters of 107 patients at birth.
The researchers found that chronic stress negatively affects iron homeostasis in fetuses. Newborns of mothers with chronic stress had up to 15% lower iron absorption than those born to unstressed mothers.
Although fetuses are usually robust against moderate changes in maternal iron, the researchers noted that males were less robust against chronic stress than females.
“The effect is mediated by maternal age and socioeconomic status or education in many cases, but it highlights the importance of more equitable healthcare during pregnancy as a powerful means to improve prenatal and postnatal brain development,” said Dr. Martin Frasch, one of the lead authors and an affiliate assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
The researchers noted that pregnant women should monitor their stress levels and use relaxation techniques if needed. If chronic stress persists, they noted that iron supplements should be considered and that the iron levels of newborns should be monitored upon delivery.