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Gaps in the evidence for prevention and treatment of maternal anaemia: a review of systematic reviews

Jacqui A Parker1*, Filipa Barroso2, Simon J Stanworth3, Helen Spiby4, Sally Hopewell5, Carolyn J Doree5, Mary J Renfrew6 and Shubha Allard2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Obstetric Anaesthesia, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headley Way, Headington, Oxford OX3 9BQ, UK

2 Department of Haematology, Barts and London Hospitals NHS Trust & NHS Blood & Transplant, London, UK

3 Department of Haematology, John Radcliffe Hospital, NHS Blood & Transplant/Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals Trust, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

4 School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

5 Systematic Review Initiative, NHS Blood & Transplant, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK

6 Mother and Infant Research Unit, Dept of Health Sciences, University of York, York, UK

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2012, 12:56  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-56

Published: 24 June 2012



Anaemia, in particular due to iron deficiency, is common in pregnancy with associated negative outcomes for mother and infant. However, there is evidence of significant variation in management. The objectives of this review of systematic reviews were to analyse and summarise the evidence base, identify gaps in the evidence and develop a research agenda for this important component of maternity care.


Multiple databases were searched, including MEDLINE, EMBASE and The Cochrane Library. All systematic reviews relating to interventions to prevent and treat anaemia in the antenatal and postnatal period were eligible. Two reviewers independently assessed data inclusion, extraction and quality of methodology.


27 reviews were included, all reporting on the prevention and treatment of anaemia in the antenatal (n = 24) and postnatal periods (n = 3). Using AMSTAR as the assessment tool for methodological quality, only 12 of the 27 were rated as high quality reviews. The greatest number of reviews covered antenatal nutritional supplementation for the prevention of anaemia (n = 19). Iron supplementation was the most extensively researched, but with ongoing uncertainty about optimal dose and regimen. Few identified reviews addressed anaemia management post-partum or correlations between laboratory and clinical outcomes, and no reviews reported on clinical symptoms of anaemia.


The review highlights evidence gaps including the management of anaemia in the postnatal period, screening for anaemia, and optimal interventions for treatment. Research priorities include developing standardised approaches to reporting of laboratory outcomes, and information on clinical outcomes relevant to the experiences of pregnant women.