Iron may prevent behavioral issues in small babies

Baby

Iron supplements may help boost brain development and ward off behavioral problems in babies who are born a bit on the small side, a new study from Sweden suggests.

Low birth-weight babies are more likely to end up iron deficient, researchers said. They need more of the nutrient for catch-up growth and haven't stored as much as other babies if they're also born premature.

For that reason, very early-term and very small babies are often put on iron - but less research has looked at babies born just shy of normal weight, to see if they are also at risk.

"I think this further solidifies the evidence that it's a very good idea to give these (marginally low birth-weight) children iron supplements," said Dr. Magnus Domellof, from Umea University, who worked on the study.

The research was led by his colleague, Dr. Staffan Berglund. Their team followed 285 infants born between 4 pounds, 7 ounces and 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

When the babies were six weeks old, the researchers randomly assigned them to get iron drops - either one or two milligrams per kilogram of body weight - or iron-free placebo drops each day until their six-month birthday.

Then at age three and a half, Domellof's team brought the kids back for IQ tests and surveyed parents about their behavioral issues. The researchers compared kids in the iron- and placebo-drop study groups with another 95 children who were born at normal weight.

There were no IQ differences based on whether the smaller-than-average babies had been put on an iron regimen. All three low birth-weight groups had average scores between 104 and 105. ("Cognitive impairment" in this study was considered an IQ under 85.)

However, significantly more babies given placebo drops had behavioral problems, as reported by their parents. The issues included problems managing emotional reactions, anxiety and depression, as well as sleep and attention problems.

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