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BMJ Open. 2012; 2(5): e001730.
Published online 2012 September 25. doi:  10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001730
PMCID: PMC3467630

Iron intake, haemoglobin and risk of gestational diabetes: a prospective cohort study



To investigate the possible association between total daily iron intake during pregnancy, haemoglobin in early pregnancy and the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) in women at increased risk of GDM.


A prospective cohort study (based on a cluster-randomised controlled trial, where the intervention and the usual care groups were combined).


Primary healthcare maternity clinics in 14 municipalities in south-western Finland.


399 Pregnant women who were at increased risk of GDM participated in a GDM prevention trial and were followed throughout pregnancy.

Main outcome measurements

The main outcome was GDM diagnosed with oral glucose tolerance test at 26–28 weeks’ gestation or based on a diagnosis recorded in the Finnish Medical Birth registry. Data on iron intake was collected using a 181-item food frequency questionnaire and separate questions for supplement use at 26–28 weeks’ gestation.


GDM was diagnosed in 72 women (18.1%) in the study population. The OR for total iron intake as a continuous variable was 1.006 (95% CI 1.000 to 1.011; p=0.038) after adjustment for body mass index, age, diabetes in first-degree or second-degree relatives, GDM or macrosomia in earlier pregnancy, total energy intake, dietary fibre, saturated fatty acids and total gestational weight gain. Women in the highest fifth of total daily iron intake had an adjusted OR of 1.66 (95% CI 0.84 to 3.30; p=0.15) for GDM. After excluding participants with low haemoglobin levels (≤120 g/l) already in early pregnancy the adjusted OR was 2.35 (95% CI 1.13 to 4.92; p=0.023).


Our results suggest that high iron intake during pregnancy increases the risk of GDM especially in women who are not anaemic in early pregnancy and who are at increased risk of GDM. These findings suggest that routine iron supplementation should be reconsidered in this risk group of women.

Keywords: Gestational Diabetes, Iron Intake, Iron Supplementation, Pregnancy, Haemoglobin

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