A fetus depends upon nutrients from the mother in order to develop properly. Beginning at conception and ending at birth, the human fetus experiences exponential growth at impossibly quick rates. In order to support rapid growth and development, the human body requires large amounts of vitamins and minerals, particularly the mineral iron. However, many of us do not fully understand the importance of iron in our bodies. Just as iron is used in architecture and manufacturing, it is also an essential building block within our bodies and without it we would not be able to survive and thrive.
As bone marrow develops, it produces red blood cells. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, the main component of which is iron. Hemoglobin is the substance which collects oxygen from the lungs. As the red blood cells travel through the blood stream, they supply the body with the oxygen and energy needed for completing everyday functions and tasks.
Maternal iron deficiency at pre and post conception has been shown to lead to developmental problems in the fetus. The first and second trimesters are crucial stages for the fetal brain and neurological development
Perinatal iron deficiency adversely affects the growth and functioning of multiple organ systems, including:
- The heart
- Skeletal muscle
- The gastrointestinal tract
- The brain
Iron is essential for neurotransmission, energy metabolism and myelination in the developing brain
The most significant adverse effects of perinatal iron deficiency are neurodevelopmental impairments and predisposition to earlier onset of postnatal iron deficiency. Some studies have shown that iron deficiency between 6 and 24 months of age is associated with long term motor and cognitive development problems that may not all be reversed in spite of subsequent iron supplementation. As infants and toddlers, it is highly recommended that an iron enriched diet is ingested.
Without proper iron levels, children under five will suffer symptoms of deficiency, including:
- Bone pain
- Lack of focus
- Inability to think quickly
- Loss of appetite
Toddlers who develop iron deficient anemia may have insufficient bone development, leading to slow growth. The skin of the mouth and gums will become pale or even slightly blue.
Supplemental iron tablets or liquids traditionally cause unpleasant gastrointestinal side-effects and liquids are difficult for children to take due to their unpleasant metallic taste, but
- Beard, JL. US National Library of Medicine, Health, “Why,” Dec., 2008; 138(12):2534-6.