Benefits of iron supplementation for low birth weight infants: a systematic review

BMC Pediatr. 2012 Jul 16;12:99. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-12-99.


Background: A number of studies have reported on the effects of iron supplementation in low birth weight infants; however, no systematic review of the available evidence has been conducted to date. Hence, we performed a systematic review of the literature to examine the effects of iron supplementation on hematologic iron status, growth, neurodevelopment, and adverse effects in low birth weight/premature infants.

Methods: We searched the Cochrane Library, Medline, and PubMed for articles reporting on the effects of iron supplementation in low weight infants. The following search terms were used: "preterm born infant(s)/children"; "preterm infants"; "prematurely born children" "weight less than 1500 g at birth"; "born prematurely"; "low birth weight infant(s)"; "infants born preterm"; "prematurity"; "small-for-gestational age"; "very small gestational age infants"; "iron supplementation"; "iron intake"; "iron supplements"; "ferric and/or ferrous compounds"; and "ferrous sulphate/fumarate/sulfate".

Results: A total of 15 studies were identified and included in the systematic review. Supplemental iron was given orally or as an iron-fortified formula in 14/15 studies. The duration of treatment ranged from 1 week to 18 months. Iron supplementation significantly increased hematologic measures of iron status (including hemoglobin, hematocrit, serum ferritin) relative to placebo or over time in most studies. All controlled studies that examined iron-deficiency anemia (IDA)/ID reported a decreased prevalence of IDA/ID with iron supplementation. Dose dependent decreases in the prevalence of IDA/ID were reported in several studies. Of the 5 studies reporting on growth, none found any significant effect on growth-related parameters (length, height, weight, and head circumference). Only 2 studies reported on neurodevelopment; no marked effects were reported. There were no consistently reported adverse effects, including oxidative stress, inhibited nutrient absorption, morbidity, or the requirement for blood transfusion.

Conclusion: The available data suggest that iron supplementation increases the levels of hematologic indicators of iron status and reduces the prevalence of IDA/ID in low birth weight/premature infants. There is insufficient evidence to make a definitive statement regarding the effects of iron supplementation on growth, neurodevelopment, or the occurrence of adverse effects in low birth weight/premature infants.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / blood
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / prevention & control*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Child Development / drug effects
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Ferric Compounds / pharmacology
  • Ferric Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Ferrous Compounds / pharmacology
  • Ferrous Compounds / therapeutic use*
  • Hematocrit
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant Formula
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / blood
  • Infant, Premature, Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Infant, Small for Gestational Age


  • Biomarkers
  • Ferric Compounds
  • Ferrous Compounds
  • Hemoglobins
  • Ferritins