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IRON MOM: How an app is helping women have the healthiest pregnancy possible

Toronto, March 21, 2019

By Amber Daugherty

Dr. Michelle Sholzberg, one of the creators of IRON MOM
Dr. Michelle Sholzberg, one of the creators of IRON MOM

It is a generally accepted fact that many women develop anemia in pregnancy, a condition where the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to tissues which can leave women feeling tired and weak. But a team at St. Michael’s Hospital is challenging this acceptance, saying the condition can be a thing of the past – if women get more iron. That’s why they’ve created IRON MOM, a helpful tool for expectant mothers to support them in getting the right amount of iron for the healthiest pregnancy – and baby – possible.

“It takes about the equivalent of 177 steaks to make a baby and to make the extra blood that a woman needs to sustain her pregnancy,” said Dr. Michelle Sholzberg, one of the creators of IRON MOM. “You cannot eat your way out of an iron deficiency. And the prenatal vitamin is not a solution because it doesn’t contain enough iron and because it contains calcium which blocks the absorption of iron. Treating iron deficiency isn’t as simple as handing out iron pills – it requires a culture change and IRON MOM addresses that need.”

Iron deficiency in pregnancy can cause a multitude of problems including fatigue, shortness of breath, postpartum depression, diminished concentration affecting IQ, reduced work productivity – and the potential for a blood transfusion which comes with its own heightened risks. Risks to the baby include reduced birth weight, preterm delivery, poor academic performance into early childhood years and more.

IRON MOM puts all of this information into a helpful app that’s available right now for expecting moms at St. Michael’s. It provides guidance on how to properly take iron supplements and manage side effects and supports for women to feel more empowered to speak to their care providers to ensure they’re receiving enough iron. The ultimate goal is to spread this across the country so that all women become more aware of the importance of iron in pregnancy.

   
"Treating iron deficiency isn't as simple as handing out iron pills - it requires a culture change and IRON MOM addresses that need." - Dr. Michelle Sholzberg

“This is important to me because I feel strongly that this is a neglected women’s health issue and it interferes with the basic needs of pregnancy,” said Dr. Sholzberg. “If there’s a way to help improve the quality of life for new moms and babies and reduce medical risks, why wouldn’t we take it?”

The idea for IRON MOM was sparked when Dr. Sholzberg realized that most of her pregnant patients were lacking iron. An evaluation done by Dr. Sholzberg, Dr. Andrea Lausman, a maternal fetal medicine specialist, and a handful of other renowned physicians and researchers confirmed that more than 90 per cent of pregnant women coming to hospital were iron deficient. IRON MOM won the social innovation award at a 2017 St. Michael’s event called Angels Den and with that funding, the team converted their paper-based IRON MOM toolkit into a digital app. In addition, the team has developed a web-based resource for clinicians to help raise awareness of the issue and support them in keeping their patients healthy.

“We’ve heard overwhelmingly positive reactions from everyone we’ve shown this to,” Dr. Sholzberg said. “It’s kind of a no brainer – everybody gets it. We’re not talking about a complicated brain surgery – it’s a very simple solution which is why we’re confident this will start to positively impact women and change the way we look at anemia in pregnancy and beyond.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit www.unityhealth.to.


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