Iron deficiency in pregnancy is more common than you might think. We all know about the backache, bloating, and morning sickness that is associated with pregnancy, but low iron in pregnancy is not often spoken about. If you’re pregnant, you are at an increased risk of a condition known as iron deficiency anaemia. This occurs when the levels of iron in your body drop and, as a result, the number of healthy, oxygen-rich red blood cells in your bloodstream decreases. That’s why pregnant women often turn to vegan iron supplements.
In this article, we’re going to cover:
- What causes low iron levels in pregnancy
- Risk factors for iron deficiency anaemia
- Common signs of low iron in pregnancy
- Best iron supplements for women
- Best foods high in iron for pregnancy
What Causes Low Iron Levels in Pregnancy?
Your body needs a constant supply of iron in the foods you eat because it uses this iron to produce new red blood cells every day.
Red blood cells contain a protein called haemoglobin. The ‘haem’ part of haemoglobin contains an iron-containing molecule called heme. When the red blood cells travel past your lungs in the capillaries, they accept oxygen. The heme group in the red blood cells bind to this oxygen and carries it to your organs and tissues.
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by around 45% to supply extra oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby. This means that you need to produce lots more red blood cells, and this means that your body needs significantly more iron than usual to create the haemoglobin for these red blood cells.
If you don’t consume enough iron in your diet, your body’s iron stores will become depleted. Eventually, this can lead to iron deficiency anaemia.
Having low iron in pregnancy poses a severe risk to you and your baby. If you suffer from iron deficiency in pregnancy, there is an increased likelihood of premature birth, low birth weight, and postpartum depression.
To treat your anaemia, your doctor may refer you to a dietitian who can advise you on the best iron-rich foods to include in your diet. They might also prescribe a liquid iron supplement or iron gummies to bump up your iron intake. We discuss the best iron supplements for women below!
Risk Factors for Iron Deficiency Anaemia
Although every pregnancy comes with an increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia, there are additional factors that can increase your risk.
The risk factors for developing anaemia during pregnancy are:
- Being anaemic prior to your pregnancy
- Being pregnant with more than one baby at once (twins or triplets)
- Having two pregnancies that are very close together
- Eating a diet that is low in iron-rich foods
- Frequent vomiting due to severe morning sickness
Following a vegetarian or vegan diet can also increase your risk of developing anaemia because red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products tend to be high in iron. Plus, the iron in animal products is usually easier for the body to absorb than plant-based iron.
Common Signs of Low Iron in Pregnancy
So, how do you know if you have low iron in pregnancy? What do you need to look out for?
If you are suffering from anaemia while you’re carrying your baby, it can be difficult to know whether or not your symptoms are due to anaemia or just pregnancy in general.
However, knowing the key signs of iron deficiency anaemia is key to spotting the symptoms as early as possible. Early detection means that you can get the best liquid iron or gummy supplements to treat your condition.
Here are the most common signs and symptoms of low iron in pregnancy:
- Brittle nails
- Hair thinning or hair loss
- Heart palpitations or heart flutters
- Lack of concentration
- Low appetite or unusual cravings
- Low energy levels and chronic fatigue
- Memory loss
- Muscle weakness
- Pale skin
- Poor circulation, leading to cold peripheries (hands and feet)
If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, make sure to let your midwife or doctor know at one of your antenatal appointments. Your healthcare professional will be able to take a blood sample to check your iron levels.
If your iron levels are below the healthy range, your midwife or doctor can offer advice and guidance on how to eat more food high in iron for pregnancy. They can also provide a prescription for one of the best iron supplements for women to boost iron intake.
Best Iron Supplements for Women
Luckily, treating low ironing pregnancy is fairly easy. One of the simplest, yet most effective ways to boost your iron levels while pregnant is by taking supplements.
Many women take prenatal vitamins that contain iron and these may be adequate for your needs. However, if you are at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia or your iron levels are extremely low, your doctor might prescribe a separate iron supplement for pregnancy.
The best iron supplements for women who are pregnant can be taken in a variety of forms, including liquid, gummies, capsules, and tablets. The form of supplement you take depends on your preferences.
If you don’t mind taking a liquid iron supplement, Floradix liquid iron is a great option. The Floradix Floravital Liquid Iron supplement contains 19.2 mg of iron per serving. During pregnancy, you need at least 27 mg of iron each day, so, taking just one serving provides over half of your daily needs.
For those of you who prefer to take capsules or gummies, the Wicked Gummy Co Iron Gummy supplement is one of the best options. A two-gummy serving provides 14 mg of iron and the gummy format makes it super easy and delicious to take your daily iron supplement in pregnancy.
Always make sure that you consult a healthcare professional before taking any kind of iron supplements. There are some important things that you need to know before you take any form of supplementation during pregnancy and your doctor or midwife will know which options are best for you.
Best Foods High in Iron for Pregnancy
Alongside any sort of iron supplement in pregnancy, it’s important that you try to consume a diet that is rich in iron to prevent anaemia.
Here are some of the best foods high in iron for pregnancy:
- Red meat – alongside iron, red meats are full of protein, B vitamins, copper, and selenium. Try to go for lean red meats, such as minced beef or smoked ham.
- Poultry – chicken and turkey are great sources of protein, iron, zinc, and selenium.
- Fish and shellfish – oily fish not only contains lots of iron but also high amounts of healthy unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Shellfish is packed full of protein, iron, and vitamin C.
- Fortified breakfast cereals – most cereals are fortified with most vitamins and minerals nowadays
- Quinoa – this is a great gluten-free grain that is full of vitamins and minerals.
- Tofu – a plant-based alternative to meats and eggs, tofu contains lots of protein, calcium, magnesium, and iron.
- Legumes, including chickpeas, beans, and lentils – legumes contain lots of plant-based protein and soluble fibre.
- Nuts and seeds – both nuts and seeds are full of iron, magnesium, selenium, vitamin K, and plant-based protein.
- Leafy green vegetables, including broccoli, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard – most green veggies have a range of micronutrients, mainly vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and calcium.
- Dark chocolate – the cacao in dark chocolate contains antioxidants, prebiotic fibre, iron, copper, and magnesium.
To boost the absorption of the iron in these foods, try to eat them alongside vitamin C rich foods, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, red bell peppers, and tomatoes.
Avoid eating these foods with high-calcium foods or calcium supplements as this can decrease the iron absorption.
Certain medications can affect the bioavailability of iron, so make sure to follow your doctor’s advice regarding which medications to avoid taking with your iron supplements.
Iron is important for everybody but it’s particularly crucial for pregnant women to support the growth of the foetus.
If you are pregnant, your doctor or midwife may prescribe a liquid iron supplement. They might also send you to a dietitian who can work with you to increase your dietary intake of iron.
During pregnancy, the risk of anaemia is much higher and your body needs a higher intake of iron each day. To prevent iron deficiency anaemia, you should focus on consuming enough iron, whether that’s through food or supplements.
If you are taking supplements and eating an iron-rich diet but you are still anaemic, your doctor may do some further testing to identify other potential causes of the anaemia.
If your doctor can’t identify a cause, they might refer you over to a specialist doctor called a haematologist. This type of doctor specialises in treating blood disorders and they will be able to take a deeper look into what is causing your anaemia.