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Iron in Pregnancy

Witten with the help of Debbie from The Natural Plate

Iron (Fe) is an essential nutrient during pregnancy, with your blood volume increasing by up to a whopping 50% in pregnancy there is an increased requirement for it. It is needed to help your baby's growth and brain development.

To increase your blood volume your body needs to make more red blood cells to carry the oxygen around your body. To make these your body needs iron, Vitamin B12 and folic acid. If there is a lack of one of these, anaemia develops. The most common is a lack of iron.

Your body does not naturally make Iron, therefore it needs to be obtained through diet, and is often present in an antenatal supplement. To get the most from your iron supplements you should take them on an empty stomach and ideally with a vitamin c rich juice to help with the absorption. Try to avoid drinking anything with caffeine or calcium in for two hours after taking them to really make absorption effective.

Your Midwife will recommend a blood test to check your iron levels, also called Haemoglobin (Hb), when you book your pregnancy and at least once more at 28 weeks gestation.

You will be diagnosed with anaemia in pregnancy if your Hb level is less than 110g/L of blood at booking and less than 105g/L of blood at 28 weeks gestation and less than 100g/L of blood after you have had the baby (these figures differ for non-pregnant women). At this point it will be recommended that you take an iron supplement if you are not already doing so. Your levels should always be rechecked 6-8 weeks later to ensure they do not drop further and ideally improving.

If you are diagnosed with anaemia or even if your iron levels are within normal limits consider some changes/additions to increase the levels in your diet as well as to help your absorption during pregnancy. This will build your levels up or help keep them within normal limits.

Eating iron-rich foods is a valuable way to boost your body’s stores. There are two types of Iron found in food, Haeme-Iron found in animal protein and Non-Haeme found in fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts etc, and this type takes a little longer for your body to convert into a substance the body can use.

Excellent sources of Iron include red meat, poultry, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables (broccoli, rocket, kale, spinach, collard greens, watercress) wholegrain bread, tofu, pulses, pistachio nuts and seeds such as sesame, pumpkin and flaxseeds.

It’s worth noting that vitamin C-rich foods (i.e. a squeeze of lemon juice, red or yellow peppers and broccoli ) will aid absorption of vegetarian based sources of Iron. Also a high intake of sugary, fatty foods and tea and coffee consumption can impair absorption of Iron.

Common symptoms of anaemia include;


lack of energy

pale skin

noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)

shortness of breath

dizziness or light headiness

cold hands and feet

If you think you may be anaemic, then speak to your Midwife or GP and get a blood test to check.

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