1. Pregnant rats were given control (46 mg iron/kg, 61 mg zinc/kg), low-Zn (6.9 mg Zn/kg) or low-Zn plus Fe (168 mg Fe/kg) diets from day 1 of pregnancy. The animals were allowed to give birth and parturition times recorded. Exactly 24 h after the end of parturition the pups were killed and analysed for water, fat, protein, Fe and Zn contents and the mothers' haemoglobin (Hb) and packed cell volume (PCV) were measured.
2. There were no differences in weight gain or food intakes throughout pregnancy. Parturition times were similar (mean time 123 (SE 15) min) and there were no differences in the number of pups born. Protein, water and fat contents of the pups were similar but the low-Zn Fe-supplemented group had higher pup Fe than the low-Zn unsupplemented group, and the control group had higher pup Zn than both the low-Zn groups. The low-Zn groups had a greater incidence of haemorrhaged or deformed pups, or both, than the controls.
3. Pregnant rats were given diets of adequate Zn level (40 mg/kg) but with varying Fe:Zn (0.8, 1.7, 2.9, 3.7). Zn retention from the diet was measured using 65Zn as an extrinsic label on days 3, 10 and 17 of pregnancy with a whole-body gamma-counter. A group of non-pregnant rats was also included as controls. The 65Zn content of mothers and pups was measured 24–48 h after birth and at 14, 21 and 24 d of age.
4. In all groups Zn retention was highest from the first meal, fell in the second meal and then rose in the third meal of the pregnant but not the non-pregnant rats. There were no differences between the groups given diets of varying Fe:Zn level. Approximately 25% of the 65Zn was transferred from the mothers to the pups by the time they were 48 h old, and a further 17% during the first 14 d of lactation. The pup 65Zn content did not significantly increase after the first 20 d of lactation but the maternal 65Zn level continued to fall gradually.
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