Childhood anaemia linked to anaemia in pregnancy – study

Indian mother and child
A woman and her child. A new study says that babies born to women who had anaemia while pregnant are at higher risk of getting childhood anaemia. Copyright: The White Ribbon Alliance, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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  • Study links childhood anaemia to mothers with anaemia during pregnancy
  • Fifty per cent of all pregnant women in India found anaemic
  • Deficiency in iron and vitamins is a major cause of anaemia

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[NEW DELHI] Babies born to women with anaemia during pregnancy have an increased risk of childhood anaemia, according to a study carried out in rural India.

Anaemia, characterised by less than normal concentration of haemoglobin (Hb) in the blood, is an important public health challenge with a prevalence rate of 47 per cent among non-pregnant women and 52 per cent in pregnant women in South and South-East Asian countries including India, a study published last year in PloS One suggested. Its symptoms include weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness and fast or irregular heartbeat.

The latest study, published November in BMJ Open, says that anaemia in women during pregnancy does not cause developmental delays or increase the risk of infectious diseases among children.

Esther Heesemann, a researcher at the University of Mannheim, Germany, and one of the authors, says that pregnancy anaemia is widespread in low- and middle-income countries. “Many women enter pregnancy already malnourished and do not receive adequate nutrition to overcome their deficits throughout. The strong correlation between anaemia of pregnant women and anaemia of their offspring is very worrisome.”

“The public health system needs to ensure that every woman is reached by antenatal care [evidence-based medical care for women during pregnancy] to prevent this intergenerational transition of poor health early on,” she recommends.

“The public health system needs to ensure that every woman is reached by antenatal care [evidence-based medical care for women during pregnancy] to prevent this intergenerational transition of poor health early on.”

Esther Heesemann, University of Mannheim

An increase in pregnancy anaemia suggests the precarious nutritional state of many pregnant women across the world, the researchers explained. In low- and middle-income countries, including India, iron deficiency is a major cause of anaemia. Deficiencies in folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin A can lead to anaemia as also infections and genetic disorders.

“Low haemoglobin during pregnancy is a known risk factor for premature birth, low birth weight and, in extreme cases, death,” the study says, referring to the protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body.

The researchers looked at nearly 1,000 mother-child pairs from 140 villages in the Madhepura district, in Bihar, India. They assessed the effects of anaemia during pregnancy on early childhood development, child growth, levels of child haemoglobin and incidence of infectious diseases.

They found that haemoglobin levels of women during pregnancy and pregnancy anaemia was closely linked to haemoglobin levels in children.  Also, babies born to moderately and severely anaemic pregnant women showed reduced levels of haemoglobin as compared to children born to non-anaemic women.

Agnimita Giri Sarkar, a paediatrician at the Institute of Child Health, in Kolkata, India, tells SciDev.Net that the study was interesting for showing up a link between maternal anaemia and infant anaemia. “If proper measures are taken during pregnancy to combat pregnancy anaemia then we will be able to reduce anaemia in infants,” she says.

According to Sarkar, anaemia during pregnancy might be a predisposing factor for low birth weight and prematurity, which is why anaemic mothers are known to give birth to babies who face various medical complications during early childhood.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.

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