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Study Explores New Mothers' Mineral Needs

By Marcia Wood
May 24, 2001

A new investigation by Agricultural Research Service scientists at Davis, Calif., and their university colleagues will reveal more about mother and baby's need for two essential nutrients--iron and zinc.

Therapeutic doses of iron, but not of zinc, are routinely prescribed worldwide for women to take throughout pregnancy and during the first few months of breast-feeding, or lactation. However, research by Janet C. King, director of the ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center at Davis, as well as by some scientists elsewhere, suggests that iron supplements might interfere with zinc uptake and use late in pregnancy and during the first three months of breast-feeding.

Those are the times zinc is most needed for the baby's growth and the mother's milk production, according to Concepcion Mendoza, a research associate at the University of California at DavisDepartment of Nutrition. Mendoza is coordinating the new iron-zinc study and is collaborating with King and with colleagues at the Davis and Berkeley campuses of the University of California.

The scientists will work with three-dozen healthy, pregnant volunteers--all non-smokers age 20 to 40--who plan to breast-feed their infants for at least 10 weeks. These volunteers will visit the nutrition center several times during and after their pregnancy to provide information about the foods that they are eating and to give samples of blood and other biological specimens. Some of the volunteers will reside at a guest house near the Davis campus for several days to eat meals prepared under the direction of the research staff.

The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and by ARS, the USDA's chief scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Janet C. King, ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center, Davis, Calif., phone (530) 752-5268, fax (530) 752-5271,