Scanty iron in womb may erode premature baby’s ability to hear

May 5th, 2009 - 3:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 5 (IANS) Iron deficiency in the womb is likely to erode the ability of premature babies to process sound, vital for later language development in early childhood.
The study evaluated 80 premature babies over 18 months, testing their cord blood for iron levels and using a non-invasive tool - auditory brainstem-evoked response (ABR) - to measure the maturity of the brain’s auditory nervous system soon after birth.

It was found that the brains of infants with low iron levels in their cord blood (obtained from umbilical cord) had abnormal maturation of auditory system compared to infants with normal cord iron levels.

“Sound isn’t transmitted as well through the immature auditory pathway in the brains of premature babies who are deficient in iron as compared to premature babies who have enough iron,” said Sanjiv Amin, associate professor of paediatrics, University of Rochester Medical Centre (URMC), and study co-author.

As many as 20 to 30 percent of pregnant women with lower socio-economic status are iron deficient. It can cause anaemia, a condition in which there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body, said a URMC release.

Anaemia can cause a range of problems in pregnancy from exhaustion to preterm labour and low birth weight. But physicians didn’t know that an iron deficiency in a foetus may also delay auditory neural maturation, which could lead to language problems.

These findings were presented at the Paediatric Academic Society meeting in Baltimore.

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