Iron supplements reduce impaired neurodevelopment in LBW babies

December 31, 2012

Researchers in Sweden have found that giving iron supplements to infants of low birth weight during the first 6 months of life appears to significantly reduce the risk of behavior problems by the time the children are preschoolers.

In a randomized, controlled trial, 285 marginally LBW infants (<2,500 g) were given placebo or either 1 mg/kg or 2 mg/kg of ferrous succinate per day from age 6 weeks to 6 months.

Infants taking placebo or iron were assessed at 6, 12, and 19 weeks; 6 months; and 3.5 years. Ninety-five controls were seen only at 3.5 years.

At the 3.5-year follow-up, all infants were given a  psychometric test to determine verbal, performance, and full-scale IQ. Parents completed a checklist questionnaire for behavioral and emotional problems.

Researchers found no significant differences in cognitive scores among the 3 groups of LBW infants compared with controls. Infants who received the 1 mg/kg and 2 mg/kg iron supplements were significantly less likely (2.9% and 2.7%, respectively) to score above the subclinical cutoff for behavior problems than infants given placebo (12.7%). The rates for LBW infants given supplements were similar to the rate for babies of normal birth weight (3.2%).

The findings suggest that iron supplements given early to otherwise healthy LBW children reduce the risk of impaired neurodevelopment associated with iron deficiency in infants.

Berglund SK, Westrup B, Hägglöf B, Hernell O, Domellöf M. Effects of iron supplementation of LBW infants on cognition and behavior at 3 years. Pediatrics. 2012. Epub ahead of print.