Previous studies have yielded conflicting results on the associations of maternal Fe intake with birth outcomes. This study aimed to investigate the associations between maternal Fe intake (total Fe from diet and supplements, dietary total Fe, haeme Fe, non-haeme Fe and Fe supplements use) and adverse birth outcomes in Shaanxi Province of Northwest China. In all, 7375 women were recruited using a stratified multistage random sampling method at 0–12 months (median 3; 10th–90th percentile 0–7) after delivery. Diets were collected by a validated FFQ and maternal characteristics were obtained via a standard questionnaire. The highest tertile of haeme Fe intake compared with the lowest tertile was negatively associated with low birth weight (LBW) (OR 0·68; 95 % CI 0·49, 0·94), small for gestational age (SGA) (OR 0·76; 95 % CI 0·62, 0·94) and birth defects (OR 0·55; 95 % CI 0·32, 0·89). Maternal haeme Fe intake was associated with a lower risk of intra-uterine growth retardation (IUGR) (medium tertile v. lowest tertile: OR 0·78; 95 % CI 0·61, 0·95; highest tertile v. lowest tertile: OR 0·76; 95 % CI 0·59, 0·93; P
trend=0·045). The OR of LBW associated with Fe supplements use were as follows: during pregnancy: 0·72 (95 % CI 0·50, 0·95); in the second trimester: 0·67 (95 % CI 0·42, 0·98); in the third trimester: 0·47 (95 % CI 0·24, 0·93). We observed no associations of total Fe, dietary total Fe or non-haeme Fe intake with birth outcomes. The results suggest that maternal haeme Fe intake is associated with a reduced risk of LBW, SGA, IUGR and birth defects, and Fe supplements use during pregnancy reduces LBW risk.