Washington: Newborns, whose mothers experience stress during the first trimester of pregnancy, may end up with low iron content and poor health later, says a new study.

Iron plays a key role in the development of brain. Well-known risk factors for poor iron status in infants are maternal iron deficiency, maternal diabetes, smoking during pregnancy, pre-term birth, low weight at birth and multiple pregnancy.

The study, conducted jointly by researchers from the Ashkelon Academic College and the Barzilai Medical Centre in Israel and the University of Michigan, US, finds that maternal stress early in pregnancy is another risk factor for low iron status in newborns.

Researchers, led by Rinat Armony-Sivan, director of the psychology research lab at the Ashkelon Academic College, studied pregnant women about to give birth at the Barzilai Medical Centre, according to Ashkelon statement. The first group of women (stress group) lived in an area where there were more than 600 rocket attacks during their first trimester of pregnancy.

The second group lived in the same area and became pregnant three to four months after the rocket attacks ended. Researchers questioned both the groups to determine whether they were healthy and without pregnancy complications. Subsequently, cord blood was collected from newborns, and serum ferritin (iron) concentrations were measured. Results showed that the 63 babies whose mothers were in the stress group had significantly lower cord-blood ferritin concentration than the 77 infants in the other group. "Our findings indicate that infants whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy are a previously unrecognized risk group for iron deficiency," Armony-Sivan said.

"Pregnant women should be aware that their health, nutrition, stress level and state of mind will affect their baby's health and well-being." These findings were presented on Sunday at the Paediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Boston, US.