About 50% of the pregnant women around the world aren’t getting enough Iron from their diet and supplements. And India has the highest prevalence of maternal anemia in the world. There have been surveys which indicate that 6 out of 10 pregnant women are anemic. The need for Iron doubles during pregnancy and therefore, the need for this nutrient increases more than it does for any other nutrient when a woman gets pregnant.
Effective communication with pregnant women regarding the consequences of maternal anemia and also discussing the food sources of Iron has become more important than ever.
How much Iron do you need during pregnancy?
The Recommended Daily Allowance for Iron during Pregnancy is 27 mg a day. Most Prenatal supplements generally have between 15-20 mg of Iron.
In the first trimester, most of your stored Iron supply has already depleted and now that the body has prepared and made space for the baby (reason for nausea and morning sickness), the baby actually starts growing. The baby would require a lot of new RBC’s to cope up with the increased growth. This puts you at a risk of maternal anemia.
There are some women who are more susceptible to maternal anemia:
- Twin/Multiple Pregnancy.
- Undernourished at any point during pregnancy (even at the time of conceiving)
- Mothers who have had recent pregnancies.
- Smoking (reduces absorption of essential nutrients)
- Alcohol Consumption (has the same effect as smoking)
- Morning sickness which prevents mother to follow an appropriate diet.
- Use of anticonvulsant medications.
- History of heavy menstrual flows.
What role does Iron play in pregnant women’s body?
Iron helps in maintaining proper blood circulation in order to supply essential nutrients and oxygen to the baby. At early stages, it helps in brain development too.
If mother suffers from Iron deficiency, it can cause premature birth, low birth weight, and infant and maternal mortality.
What should be the appropriate iron levels during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, your body starts producing extra red blood cells and plasma to support the blood flow in order to nourish the growing baby. The amount of plasma increases more than the red blood cells which cause a dilution in blood and hence a decrease in hemoglobin concentration. This is the reason why the requirement of Iron levels for pregnancy is less than what non-pregnant women require.
Iron levels for pregnant women at 28 weeks can be between 10-14 g/dL as opposed to the 12-16 g/dL for non pregnant women.
Why taking supplementation other than Prenatal Vitamins is not good for you? (Unless it’s doctor recommended)
Taking supplements of Iron (other than prenatal and doctor recommended) is not good for you because it interferes with absorption of other minerals and also causes gastrointestinal problems like constipation, gas, bloating etc.
Natural ways to increase your Iron levels?
Lack of Iron during Pregnancy can also be due to less Folic Acid, Vitamin C or B12 in your body. Make sure that you are not falling out on these sources too as Iron absorption is as important as Iron intake.
There are two sources of Iron-
- Non-Heme Iron, which is obtained from plant based sources like green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils dried fruits, whole grains, and eggs.
- Heme-Iron, which is found in animal poultry, fish, and red meat.
Non-Heme Iron or vegetarian/vegan sources of Iron are difficult to digest than Heme Iron sources. Therefore, it’s recommended that you take a Vitamin C source if you are a Vegetarian along with the Iron source. Tomatoes are a good source of Vitamin C, so are fruits like orange, guava, kiwi etc.
To boost your iron intake, aim for including these foods in your diet DAILY.
- Beef liver is an excellent source of Iron with 5 mg per slice. Organ meats are best sources of Heme Iron.
- Oysters and clams.
- Fish such as salmon, tuna, cod, catfish, shrimp, and tilapia are safe fishes to eat during pregnancy. You can have one or two serving a week.
- Chicken, Turkey, and Veal.
- Whole Grains such as whole wheat, oats etc.
- Beans such as kidney beans (rajma), chickpeas (chana), black eyed peas (labia) etc.
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, beetroot leaves, methi leaves, mint leaves, kale etc. Also include broccoli in your diet as it is high in Vitamin C too, so the Iron gets absorbed really fast.
- Drink a glass of beetroot juice 3-4 times a week since it helps in increasing hemoglobin levels.
- Nuts and seeds are excellent sources Iron, Protein, Fiber, and Magnesium. They are ideal snack options for pregnancy. Include a handful of peanuts, walnuts, cashews, apricots, prunes etc. in your diet. Also sprinkle seeds such as sunflower seeds, flaxseeds etc. on your salads or mix them in smoothies. Add 4-5 dates daily to your diet. It’s loaded with Iron and other essential nutrients too. In fact, it has been proven that consuming dates regularly brings a more favorable labor outcome. Read here.
- Lentils especially red lentils a.k.a masoor ki daal is an excellent source of Iron to providing 47% of your Daily Iron Requirement in a cup. Other pulses such as Chana daal, Arhar daal are good too.
There are some substances which inhibit the absorption of Iron
Tannin – A substance found in tea and coffee
Polyphenols – Found in coffee and cocoa.
Phytates (phytic acid) – Present in whole grain cereals.
Calcium – Large amounts of Calcium can prevent absorption of Iron. It’s best to avoid taking milk or curd after an hour of your Iron-rich meal.
NOTE: Iron absorption from above-mentioned substances matters only if they are present in large amounts in your body.
Will I be able to get appropriate Iron if I am a Pregnant Vegetarian?
Yes. There are so many people who are Vegetarians/Vegans and suffer from no such deficiencies. It’s just a big fad that Vegetarian diet causes you to become anemic.
What are the symptoms of Iron deficiency in Pregnant Women?
Early symptoms include:
- Extreme Fatigue (Even though tiredness is extremely common during pregnancy, if you feel weakness all the time during pregnancy – it could be one of the first warning signs of maternal anemia)
- Breathlessness (If you need to take deep breaths every now and then, getting checked for maternal anemia should be the first thing to do)
- Paleness (Extreme Paleness, especially on fingernails, lips and near eyelids, could be one of the very first signs of maternal anemia)
Other symptoms include:
- Cardiovascular stress ( rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing)
- Pica (Cravings for substances with no nutritional value like clay, chalk etc.)
- Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating
- Chest Pain
- Cold hands and feet
In conclusion, even though Iron really matters there is no point in supplementing it unless your doctor tests you. And also it doesn’t matter if you are a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian, you can still have sufficient Iron through your diet to fulfill your requirements.
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