The Why’s About Iron
In pregnancy, your blood volume increases by 30 to 50%, and by the end of your pregnancy, the uterus is receiving ⅕ of a woman’s blood supply. To support the production of blood, your body uses iron. Specifically, iron is needed to make hemoglobin, a substance of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Due to the increased demand for blood, your body needs about 27mg per day of iron, twice the amount needed when you are not pregnant. This is why many women experience pregnancy-associated anemia or low iron levels.
Medical literature points to a few potentially serious health conditions when your iron is too low:
- Increased risk for postpartum depression (PPD)
- Premature or early birth
- Low baby birth weight
- Maternal or infant death
Several times throughout your pregnancy, your doctor will obtain a blood sample to see if you have adequate iron levels. If you have low levels, you will be recommended to take iron or will be given a prescription.
In fact, this is why it’s important for women to start taking their prenatal vitamins when they discover they are pregnant. Prenatal vitamins contain additional iron, compared to other vitamins. For most women, the iron contained in a prenatal vitamin is adequate to support the increased blood demand. However, many women find it hard to take their vitamins or may still experience anemia despite using their vitamins.
The How’s About Iron
There are several symptoms of low iron or anemia however, many are similar to pregnancy symptoms making it sometimes hard to identify. This is why it is very important to express your pregnancy symptoms to your healthcare provider and ensure you are being screened for anemia. The following are common symptoms you may experience if your iron is low:
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
The average pregnant Mama will need about 27mg per day of iron,
which is twice the amount of iron support needed when not pregnant.
There are several ways to increase iron intake and absorption during pregnancy:
- Heme Iron-Rich Foods: the body absorbs this type of iron the best. Ensure you focus on iron-rich foods from fish, meat, and poultry:
- Fish: shellfish (careful for mercury), sardines, and anchovies
- Meat: beef, pork, or lamb, especially organ meats such as liver
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, and duck, especially liver and dark meat
- Non-Heme Iron Foods: it is important to incorporate this form of iron in the diet, however, it is not as well absorbed as heme iron foods:
- Leafy dark greens: spinach, broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and collard greens
- Beans: lima beans, peas, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas
- Iron-enriched foods: pasta, grains, rice, and cereals
- Dried fruit: prunes and raisins
- Ways to Increase Iron Absorption
- Eat Iron rich foods and take iron supplements with Vitamin C rich foods (fruits, orange juice, or vitamin C supplement). This will enhance absorption or iron.
- Take iron supplements away from calcium (milk, cheese, or yogurt), antacids (tums for heartburn), high fiber foods, or caffeine. These foods or supplements decrease iron absorption and should be separated by 2 hours.
- Iron supplements may cause constipation and black colored stools.There are different forms of iron-ferrous gluconate/glycinate- which is gentler on the stomach and does not cause constipation compared to the sulfate form. Plant based iron supplements also do not cause constipation.
- Misc Iron Support
- Cook with ‘Lucky Iron Fish’ or in cast-iron pots to also increase iron intake.
The Bottom Line About Iron
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms during pregnancy, delivery, or even after your baby is born, it is important to inform your healthcare provider and ensure they do the appropriate blood tests to measure your iron levels.