For years it was thought that the foetus functioned as the “perfect parasite” and would be able to acquire sufficient iron even in the face of mild-to-moderate maternal anaemia. Today, a growing body of literature suggests that altered or limited iron supply in utero, during key windows of development, may impact metabolic or developmental programming and the developing brain.
Suboptimal iron stores at birth are associated with long-term, irreversible cognitive deficits in the offspring. Cord ferritin concentrations <76 mg/L have been associated with impaired language ability, tractability, and fine motor skills in children subsequently studied at 5 years of age.
Your baby’s gut may not regulate iron absorption in response to iron stores until 6–9 months of age. Delaying the time at which the umbilical cord is clamped post-delivery has a significant impact on the net amount of blood and, hence, iron stores transferred at birth. On average, delaying clamping until the cord has stopped pulsing translates to an additional 30% more blood volume in the neonate, which could contribute up to 60% more red blood cells. Delayed cord clamping has also been linked to persistent benefits on early iron homeostasis, as evidenced by better iron stores (ferritin) at 6 months of age.
The best source of absorbable iron is haem iron, from animal products. Some other sources of non-haem iron include dark green leafy veges, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, kidney beans and quinoa. Remember if taking an iron supplement its best to take it away from other supplements and on an empty stomach. As vitamin C increases iron absorption, add a squeeze of lemon juice to your meal!
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