Getting Enough Iron in Pregnancy

iron in pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman needs many vitamins and minerals for the health of the baby and her own health. One of the most important minerals is iron in pregnancy, both for the mother and the baby. Consuming the right amount of iron in pregnancy is crucial, read on to discover more about iron.

Iron Requirements in Pregnancy

Iron is one of the most important minerals for everybody, it is a mineral that everyone needs for growth and development. During pregnancy, however, iron is crucial, not only for the mother but also for your baby. Haemoglobin, which is a protein found in red blood cells that transports oxygen from your lungs to every part of your body, is made by your body using the iron. Iron in pregnancy is also necessary for myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to all your muscles.

Additionally, your body needs iron in pregnancy to produce several hormones (e.g., hepcidin). Whilst pregnant a mother’s body uses iron to increase blood production and provide oxygen to her baby as well. Your body will need around half of the iron in pregnancy you consume to just support your placenta and your growing baby. Iron in pregnancy is so incredibly important for you and your baby.

How Much Iron Do You Need?

USA Recommended dietary allowance suggests a person needs the following amount of iron each day (read table). Click here to jump to food sources of iron if you are in a hurry.

  • Males over 18 8mg daily
  • Females ages 19 to 50 18mg daily 
  • Women over 50 8mg daily 
  • A pregnant woman requires 27 milligrams of iron each day while pregnant and not more the 45 mg per day.

Low Iron Pregnancy Symptoms

Low iron levels in the body during pregnancy lead to anaemia. Anaemia,  which is when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen around your body,  has the following signs and symptoms:

symptoms of anaemia in pregnancy
  • Fatigue \Weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath (breathing difficulty)
  • cold hands and feet

Severe anaemia symptoms might include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty in paying attention (concentration)

Low Iron Effects on a Baby

A pregnant woman with severe anaemia is more likely to give birth to a premature baby (when delivery occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Moreover, iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy can also cause low birth weight and there has also been an association between low iron and postpartum depression in mothers. Various studies suggest an increased risk of neonatal death before or immediately after birth.  TIP: It is very important to have your Doctor monitor your iron levels throughout your pregnancy.

Tips to Avoid Low Iron Level in Pregnancy

As we have discussed, iron is necessary to form red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. During pregnancy, your blood volume rises by roughly 50%. A deficiency of iron can result in anaemia, which stops the red blood cells from delivering enough oxygen throughout the body. If you are expecting twins or more children, you are more likely to be iron deficient.

Tips to manage iron in pregnancy;

  • Prenatal vitamins frequently include iron. Taking an iron-containing prenatal vitamin helps both prevent and cure pregnancy iron deficiency anaemia.
  • Your doctor might occasionally advise taking an additional iron supplement.
  • Iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy can also be avoided by eating a healthy diet rich in iron (read on to discover more).

Iron Tablets During Pregnancy

Supplements can have iron present, in both supplements with only iron, and those with vitamins-minerals supplements.  The most typical types of iron found in dietary supplements are ferrous sulphate, ferrous gluconate, ferric citrate, or ferric sulphate. You should only take iron supplements when a blood test confirms that your levels are low. As you can see it is crucial to discuss which iron supplement is best for you with your doctor.

The most common side effect faced by iron supplements for mothers is constipation (hard dry stools with less than three bowel movements in a week). If you wish to avoid constipation try the following tips:

  • Increase your intake of whole, unprocessed plant foods including fruits and vegetables with skins, whole grains, and legumes
  • Drink more water
  • Move and exercise and be physically active
  • Take your iron supplement every other day (or as directed by your physician)

When Should a Pregnant Woman Start Taking Iron?

According to research, around the 12th week of pregnancy (the beginning of the second trimester), when iron requirements for pregnancy start to increase, is a suitable time to begin iron supplementation at a dose of 30 mg/day. Some doctors start iron supplements early in pregnancy as a preventative measure.

iron tablets during pregnancy

Which Trimester is Iron Most Important?

It is especially important that you must get enough iron during the final 10 weeks (3rd trimester) of pregnancy when your baby is starting to develop its iron reserves in preparation for the first six months of life. The iron stocks are used after birth by your baby up until 6 months of age, after which your baby starts consuming solid foods. How amazing.

Do I Need More Iron if I am Breastfeeding?

Once again iron is crucial for breastfeeding mothers as well. If you are younger than 18, you must consume 10 milligrams of iron daily. The daily allowance for anyone over 19 years old is 9 milligrams per day.

Food Rich in Iron in Pregnancy

Found just naturally in many foods iron can also be found in foods that have been fortified with iron. You can get recommended amounts of iron by eating a variety of foods, including the following:

  • Meat, seafood and poultry
  • Some breakfast cereals and breads that have been fortified with iron (check the labels)
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and some dried fruits

Two forms of iron that may be found in food and they are:

  • Haem iron – from animal foods
  • Non-haem iron- which is present in plant foods and iron-fortified products

Haem iron-containing foods are in a format that our body can actually absorb around 10 times faster than non-haem iron foods.

Handy Tips for Iron in Pregnancy

  1. Foods containing iron eaten together can improve how your body absorbs iron. So try eating plant and meat iron sources together if you are able
  2. Consume some vitamin C-containing foods with your meal to help absorb the iron from your foods. Some vitamin C-containing foods are citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, sweet peppers, and broccoli.
  3. The redder the meat – the more iron it contains!

Foods that Block Iron in Pregnancy

  • Tea, coffee, bran and some medications can block plant iron (non-haem iron) from being absorbed by your body.
    Drinks rich in calcium such as milk can block the absorption of iron in the gut.
  • Have your calcium and iron supplements at different times of the day and check with your doctor.

Iron Containing Foods

FOODSSERVING SIZEIRON (mg)
Beef, liver (cooked)3 ounces / 85g8
Oysters (cooked)3 ounces / 85g8
Turkey (cooked)3 ounces / 85g1
Spinach (cooked)1/2  cup3
Tofu1/2 cup2.4
Peaches½ cup3.2
Lentils (cooked)½  cup3.3
Peaches½ cup1.3
Fortified cereals (ready-to-eat)1 ounce / 28g1.8-19.2
Oatmeal1 cup3.6
Prune juice¾ cup2.3
Egg (hard boiled)11
Whole Wheat Bread2 slices1.4
Figs (dried)½ cup2.2
Tomato paste¼ cup2,.0
Raisins¼ cup0.8-1
Dates½ cup1.0
Cashew nuts1 ounce (18 nuts)2
Kidney Beans (cooked)1/2cup2
Soy Beans (cooked)½ cup2.4
Chickpeas (cooked)½  cup2.4
Potato1 (medium)1.9
Almonds½ cup2.6
Apricots½ cup3.0

Sample Meal Plan for Iron in Pregnancy

BREAKFASTwhole-grain or iron-fortified cereal with milk prunes or raisins
SNACKFruit or fruit juice (pomegranate, apple, peaches, plums etc.)/ wholegrain cracker with cheese and or tinned salmon
LUNCHRed meat cooked with iron-rich vegetables (spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes etc.) yogurt/Can of baked beans with toast
SNACKCashews 7-8/ 2 Eggs (boiled)/ yoghurt with muesli
DINNERLegumes like beans with brown rice Chicken steak or fried or baked fish 
BED TIMEMilk with 1 cookie / dried apricots

Sources:

  • Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Micronutrients. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001. 9, Iron. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK222309/
  • USA Department of Health and Human Services,NIH,ODS, Iron factsheets for consumers
  • Heathdirect.gov.au
  • Health Queensland Government