Effects of Iron and Vitamin A Levels on Pregnant Women and Birth Outcomes: Complex Relationships Untangled Using a Birth Cohort Study in Uganda


Introduction: Women and infants are among the most vulnerable groups for micronutrient deficiencies. Pregnancy micronutrient status can affect birth outcomes and subsequent infants' growth.

Methods: We determined the relationship between maternal iron and vitamin A status at delivery using several biomarkers (ferritin, soluble transferrin receptor [sTFR], body iron stores [BIS], hemoglobin and retinol binding protein [RBP]) and birth outcomes (body weight, Z-scores, head circumference, small-for-gestational-age and preterm birth) in rural Uganda. We investigated women who had serum results at the point of delivery and paired them to their infants at birth (n = 1244). We employed multivariable linear and logistic regression, adjusting for clustering at the subcounty level to determine the relationship between maternal micronutrients and birth outcomes.

Results: After adjusting for relevant factors, we found that maternal iron status (ferritin and BIS) and anemia (hemoglobin) were not significantly associated with the assessed birth outcomes. However, there was a significant association between serum sTFR and preterm births (AOR: 0.67; 95% CI 0.48-0.94). For Vitamin A, we observed a significant positive association between RBP and length-for-age (LAZ) at birth (β = 0.12, p < 0.030).

Discussion: These findings indicate that the relationship between maternal iron status and birth outcomes needs to be further investigated, because depending on the biomarker used the associations were either in favor of an adverse birth outcome or not significant. Additionally, they confirm that higher maternal RBP levels could be beneficial for birth outcomes.

Clinicaltrials: gov as NCT04233944.

Keywords: Birth outcomes; Iron; Pregnancy; Uganda; Vitamin A.

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