Safety and benefits of antenatal oral iron supplementation in low-income countries : A review

Mwangi, Martin N.; Prentice, Andrew M.; Verhoef, Hans


The World Health Organization recommends universal iron supplementation of 30-60 mg/day in pregnancy but coverage is low in most countries. Its efficacy is uncertain, however, and there has been a vigorous debate in the last decade about its safety, particularly in areas with a high burden of malaria and other infectious diseases. We reviewed the evidence on the safety and efficacy of antenatal iron supplementation in low-income countries. We found no evidence that daily supplementation at a dose of 60 mg leads to increased maternal Plasmodium infection risk. On the other hand, recent meta-analyses found that antenatal iron supplementation provides benefits for maternal health (severe anaemia at postpartum, blood transfusion). For neonates, there was a reduced prematurity risk, and only a small or no effect on birth weight. A recent trial showed, however, that benefits of antenatal iron supplementation on maternal and neonatal health vary by maternal iron status, with substantial benefits in iron-deficient women. The benefits of universal iron supplementation are likely to vary with the prevalence of iron deficiency. As a consequence, the balance between benefits and risks is probably more favourable in low-income countries than in high-income countries despite the higher exposure to infectious pathogens.