Objective To determine lead levels in cord blood and breast milk of anemic mothers.
Methods The study population included 55 anemic (hemoglobin <11 g/dl) and 20 healthy nonanemic (hemoglobin ⩾11 g/dl) pregnant women delivering singleton live births at term gestation. Depending on hemoglobin levels the mothers were further divided into mild (hemoglobin 8.6–10.9 g/dl; n = 18), moderate (hemoglobin 6.1–8.5 g/dl; n = 16) and severe (hemoglobin⩽6.0 g/dl;n = 21) anemia. Lead levels were estimated by atomic absorption spectrophotometry in maternal blood, cord blood, early transitional milk (day 3±1) and late transitional milk (day 15±3). Neonatal anthropometry including weight, crown-heel length, head circumference, chest circumference and midarm circumference were recorded.
Results Approximately half of the mothers with severe anemia and one-fourth of mothers with mild to moderate anemia had lead levels ⩾10 µg/dl in maternal blood, cord blood and early as well as late transitional breast milk samples. Maternal and cord blood levels had negative correlations with neonatal anthropometry. Maternal blood levels had significant correlations with cord blood and breast milk lead levels. Similarly cord blood lead levels also had significant correlations with breast milk lead levels.
Conclusions Anemia during pregnancy, particularly the severe type is associated with elevated lead levels in maternal and cord blood and breast milk. There was negative correlation between fetal growth and lead levels in maternal and cord blood. Exposure to high lead levels in utero and through breast milk constitutes a serious health hazard to these infants.