Effects of routine oral iron supplementation with or without folic acid for women during pregnancy

J P Pena-Rosas, F E Viteri
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, (3): CD004736

BACKGROUND: It has been suggested that routine intake of supplements containing iron or combination of iron and folic acid during pregnancy improves maternal health and pregnancy outcomes.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the efficacy, effectiveness and safety of routine antenatal daily or intermittent iron supplementation with or without folic acid during pregnancy on the health of mothers and newborns.

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (June 2005). Additionally, we contacted relevant organizations for the identification of ongoing and unpublished studies.

SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised or quasi-randomised trials evaluating the effect of routine supplementation with iron or combination of iron and folic acid during pregnancy.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We assessed trials for methodological quality using the standard Cochrane criteria. Two authors independently assessed the trials for inclusion and one author extracted data. We collected information on randomisation method, allocation concealment, blinding and loss to follow up. The primary outcomes included maternal and infant clinical and laboratory outcomes.

MAIN RESULTS: Forty trials, involving 12706 women, were included in the review. Overall, the results showed significant heterogeneity across most prespecified outcomes. Heterogeneity could not be explained by standard sensitivity analyses including quality assessment; therefore, all results were analysed assuming random-effects. Very limited information related to clinical maternal and infant outcomes was available in the included trials. The data suggest that daily antenatal iron supplementation increases haemoglobin levels in maternal blood both antenatally and postnatally. It is difficult to quantify this increase due to significant heterogeneity between the studies. Women who receive daily antenatal iron supplementation are less likely to have iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anaemia at term as defined by current cut-off values. Side-effects and haemoconcentration are more common in women who receive daily iron supplementation. No differences were evident between daily and weekly supplementation with regards to gestational anaemia; haemoconcentration during pregnancy appears less frequent with the weekly regimen. The clinical significance of hemoconcentration defined as haemoglobin greater than 130 g/L remains uncertain.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Further studies are needed to assess the effects of routine antenatal supplementation with iron or a combination of iron and folic acid on clinically important maternal and infant outcomes.

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