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PLoS One. 2013 Sep 23;8(9):e74876. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074876. eCollection 2013.

Impact on infants' cognitive development of antenatal exposure to iron deficiency disorder and common mental disorders.

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Research and Training Centre for Community Development, Hanoi, Vietnam ; Centre for Women's Health Gender and Society, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, the University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia ; Jean Hailes Research Unit, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.



The aim of this study was to examine the effects of antenatal exposure to iron deficiency anemia (IDA) and common mental disorders (CMD) on cognitive development of 6 months old infants in a developing country.


A prospective population-based study in a rural province in Vietnam, which enrolled pregnant women at 12-20 weeks gestation and followed them up with their infants until six months postpartum. Criteria for IDA were Hb <11 g/dL and serum ferritin <15 ng/mL. CMD symptoms were assessed by the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale-Vietnam validation. Infant cognitive development was assessed by Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd Ed. Path analyses were performed to determine the direct and indirect, partly or fully mediated, causal effects of the antenatal exposures.


A total of 497 pregnant women were recruited, of those 378 women provided complete data which were included in the analyses. Statistically significant direct adverse effects of persistent antenatal IDA (estimated difference of -11.62 points; 95% CI -23.01 to -0.22) and antenatal CMD (-4.80 points; 95% CI: -9.40 to -0.20) on infant Bayley cognitive scores at six months were found. Higher birthweight, household wealth, and self-rated sufficient supply of breastmilk were associated with higher cognitive scores. Maternal age >30 years and primiparity had an indirect adverse effect on infants' Bayley cognitive scores.


These findings suggest that antenatal IDA and CMD both have adverse effects on child cognitive development, which if unrecognized and unaddressed are likely to be lasting. It is crucial that both these risks are considered by policy makers, clinicians, and researchers seeking to improve child cognitive function in developing countries.

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