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Nearly half of pregnant women aren't getting their iron levels checked, study finds

Experts say the dangers of iron deficiency should be taken more seriously

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A new study conducted by researchers from the American Society of Hematology explored the risks associated with pregnant women missing out on important rounds of vitamin testing. 

Their work showed that a large percentage of pregnant women aren’t being tested for an iron deficiency, even though one in two pregnant women are iron deficient. 

“Despite the very high prevalence of iron deficiency in pregnancy, and how easy it is to treat, we are not doing a very good job of checking for it,” said researcher Dr. Jennifer Teichman. “It’s not top of mind, in part, because of inconsistent recommendations for ferritin testing across clinical guidelines.” 

The push for more iron testing

The researchers analyzed data from more than 44,000 pregnant women between 2013 and 2018. The women were seeking prenatal care at community laboratories in Canada, and they reported on how often ferritin testing, the blood test that is given to pregnant women to determine iron deficiency, was offered during pregnancy. 

The study showed that 60% of the women received ferritin testing during pregnancy, and more than 70% of those tests occurred at the initial pregnancy check-up. However, the researchers explained that taking only one test isn’t enough. Women can develop an iron deficiency at any point during pregnancy, and regular testing throughout the trimesters gives health care providers the best chance to start treatment. 

As women progress through their pregnancies, their need for higher iron levels continues to increase. A lack of iron may increase the risk of postpartum depression, low birth weight, and premature birth. This is why regular testing for iron levels over the course of pregnancy can help protect women and their babies. 

“Iron deficiency is very common, and there can be poor outcomes for both mom and baby if it isn’t identified and treated,” said Dr. Teichman. “The good news is that it’s easily found with a simple blood test and completely correctable with iron supplements.” 

The researchers hope guidelines change in the future to ensure that all pregnant women receive regular tests for iron deficiency throughout their entire pregnancies. Currently, the United States Preventive Services Task Force doesn’t recommend women receive ferritin testing during pregnancy; however, these findings make it clear that all women should be tested often throughout pregnancy to ensure the best health outcomes for themselves and their newborns. 

“Prenatal vitamins contain only a sprinkling of iron and many combine iron with calcium, which can inhibit the absorption of iron,” said Dr. Teichman. “The way to address the problem is by identifying iron deficiency early on and then supplementing women with therapeutic doses of iron, which has 10 times the amount found in most prenatal vitamins.” 

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