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Making Sense of Micronutrients: Addressing Iron Needs During Pregnancy

June 6, 2024

Understanding the Why, What, and How of iron intake during pregnancy 

Iron is an essential mineral for everyone. Iron plays an important role in carrying oxygen in the blood, throughout the body. During pregnancy when the blood volume increases by half (50%), this creates a higher demand for iron to support your growing fetus and placenta. Additionally, the potential for any blood loss during childbirth adds a demand as well for sufficient iron in the body.

Iron-deficiency anemia is when there is not enough iron to produce healthy red blood cells. This leads to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Other risks associated with anemia during pregnancy include early delivery, low birth weight, infant developmental delays, and increased risk of postpartum depression.

What is the recommended intake of iron? 

A non-pregnant female requires 18 milligrams of iron per day, according to the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). A woman during pregnancy requires 27 milligrams per day. These needs are usually covered mostly through diet in addition to a prenatal supplement. 

How to increase your intake of iron-rich foods: 

First, is to be aware of your iron-rich foods, to ensure they are present in as many of your meals as possible.

  • Lean meats and poultry such as beef, chicken, and turkey.
  • Seafood and fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines. 
  • Beans & legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and soybeans.
  • Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and swiss chard. 
  • Nuts & seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and cashews. Additionally dried fruit such as apricots and raisins. 
  • And lastly, many foods are fortified with iron such as cereals and pastas.

Next, when it comes to iron through food we are also concerned with absorption. Not all sources are as easily absorbed, and most sources require an aid in absorption. Alternatively, there are elements that can block absorption.

Iron sources that come from animal products are known as heme iron. These are more absorbent compared to plant sources known as non-heme iron. It’s advised to eat non-heme sources with a vitamin C-rich food such as citrus fruit, tomatoes, or bell peppers to aid in absorption.

Be mindful that calcium, polyphenols found in tea and coffee, as well as phytates in whole grains and legumes can block absorption. It’s advised to eat these separate from your iron sources. For example, avoid drinking your morning coffee with your breakfast meal that may include an iron source like leafy greens and turkey sausage.

Finally, let’s briefly discuss how supplements work with diet when it comes to iron. Most women during pregnancy will take a prenatal supplement that includes iron or will take a separate iron supplement. You will most likely start taking an iron supplement in your second trimester, if not already in your first. This is recommended regardless of your levels or dietary intake. However, it is important to also be mindful of your intake from food. You can work with a Dietitian to learn what your iron needs are from food, in relation to how much you are receiving from a supplement.

Iron supplements can cause GI discomfort, most notably constipation. Monitor these symptoms and speak with your Doctor or Dietitian to ensure the correct dosage and frequency.  

Iron is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role during prenatal and postpartum, for both Mom and Baby. Keep iron-rich foods in your daily diet to support in meeting your needs, and to prevent developing iron-deficiency anemia. Additionally, an iron supplement will ensure you are intaking a daily dose of iron, regardless.

To learn more about what Dining With Nature offers for prenatal and postpartum nutrition care – take a look at our Services page.

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