Background: Manganese (Mn) is both an essential element and a potential toxicant. Although a few studies have suggested a nonlinear relationship between the maternal whole blood Mn level at delivery and infant birth weight, little is known about the effects of Mn levels during pregnancy on fetal growth, particularly with regard to sex-specific differences. Methods: In this nationwide birth cohort study, we examined the association of maternal blood Mn level during pregnancy with infant birth weight, length, and head circumference in 16,473 mother–infant pairs. Pregnant women living in 15 regions across Japan were recruited between January 2011 and March 2014. The analysis of birth size (8,484 males and 7,989 females) was conducted using a nonlinear spline, followed by the use of quadratic regression or linear regression models. The analysis of small-for-gestational-age (SGA) (6,962 males and 6,528 females born vaginally) was conducted using multivariate logistic regression. Additionally, subgroup analysis was conducted according to the timing of blood sampling. Results: The median maternal blood Mn level during pregnancy (i.e., 2nd and 3rd trimesters) was 16.2 µg/L (range, 4.3–44.5 µg/L). A positive linear association between the log blood Mn level and head circumference was observed in both male and female infants. However, a nonlinear relationship between the log blood Mn level and birth weight was observed only in male infants, such that the birth weight increased up to a blood Mn level of 18.6 µg/L. In the subgroup analysis stratified by the timing of maternal blood sampling, this nonlinear relationship was obvious only when sampling was performed in the 3rd trimester. Male infants in the lowest blood Mn level quartile (≤ 13.2 µg/L) faced an increased risk of SGA (odds ratio [95% confidence interval] = 1.35 [1.04–1.74]), as did those in the highest blood Mn level quartile (≥ 21.0 µg/L) when sampling was performed during the 3rd trimester (odds ratio [95% confidence interval] = 1.62 [1.10 to 2.39]), compared to those in the third blood Mn level quartile (the category including 18.6 µg/L). No association of blood Mn level with birth weight was observed among female infants, and blood Mn level was not associated with birth length in either male or female infants. Conclusion: A low blood Mn level during pregnancy or a high blood Mn level during the 3rd trimester was associated with a lower birth weight and increased risk of SGA in male infants, but not in female infants. A low blood Mn level was found to correlate slightly with a small head circumference among infants of both sexes.
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