Pregnant women who drink a lot of milk put their babies at risk of having an iron deficiency during an important phase of development, New Zealand researchers said Friday.
Iron is essential for healthy brain development, and a deficiency in babies and toddlers, when the brain is developing rapidly, is associated with small, but important differences in brain function, behaviour and learning, Xinhua reported citing a study from the University of Auckland.
It found that 7 % of New Zealand newborns were iron deficient and established that iron stores were lower in babies whose mothers consumed higher quantities of milk during pregnancy.
"While milk is an important source of calcium, it is a poor source of iron. Milk is also quite filling and so can reduce the appetite for other foods that are better sources of iron," paediatrician Cameron Grant said in a statement.
"Pregnant women with iron deficiency are more likely to go into premature labour or deliver a baby with low birth weight. They are also more likely to be iron deficient while they are breastfeeding. "
Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide, with pregnant women and children under five years of age most at risk.
The condition is twice as common in New Zealand children aged six months to two years than in children of the same age living in Australia, Europe or the US.
The frequency of iron deficiency among women of childbearing age had risen from 3 % in 1997 to 7 % in the most recent survey, conducted in 2008-2009.
To prevent negative effects on their child's early development, Grant recommended that pregnant women who drank large amounts of milk take iron supplements.
"An alternative would be to increase the nutrient content of milk consumed by mothers-to-be to keep both the mother and child healthy," he said.