Iron in Pregnancy

Iron is an essential nutrient for red blood cell manufacturing in your body. During pregnancy your body has greater iron needs as your body increases its overall blood volume and to meet the needs of your growing baby.

Why is iron deficiency a problem?

Having low iron levels can make you feel tired, have poor concentration, and increase your risk of infection. Very low iron levels can affect your baby’s growth and increase the risk of your baby coming early.

Your iron level in the final 10 weeks of pregnancy influences your baby’s iron stores for the first 6 months of life. These stores are used until your baby starts on solids. So, low iron levels for you will affect your baby’s iron stores too.

How much dietary iron do I need each day?

Pregnant women need 27mg of iron a day, as compared to women who are not pregnant who need 18mg of iron a day! It is especially important to be mindful of the iron rich foods you eat and try to increase these during pregnancy.

How do I check my iron levels?

During your pregnancy you will have blood tests that will assess your iron levels in your first and third trimester, or more regularly if iron deficiency or anaemia has been identified. Treatment options for low iron will depend on your levels of Haemoglobin in your blood (Hb) and your Ferritin level (Fe).

Increasing dietary iron

Most women need to increase their dietary iron intake during pregnancy, and this can be the easiest way to increase your iron levels, especially in early pregnancy. A list of iron rich foods is provided below. Try to incorporate as many of these into your daily diet. Choosing options you enjoy eating is best.

Meat, fish and eggs contain the most easily absorbed form of iron (haem iron). Plant-based iron (non-haem) is not as readily absorbed, but can be aided with vitamin-C. Try to eat your iron rich foods with foods or drinks high in vitamin C (tomato-based dishes, citrus fruits or drinks).

Foods and drinks with Caffeine (tea, coffee or cola) or Dairy foods (calcium rich) can stop your body from absorbing all the dietary iron available, so try to have these foods at least 2 hours apart from your iron-rich foods. This also applies to any supplements you take.

Iron supplements

Some women may need to increase their iron levels through the use of oral iron supplements. This will be discussed with you by your midwife and doctor. If you have experienced iron deficiency or anaemia in the past this may be more likely. The most suitable iron supplement will be recommended to you, as not all supplements contain the required amount needed in pregnancy.

Iron supplements can cause constipation – increase your fluid intake, dietary fibre, physical activity and discuss with your midwife if it continues.

Iron infusion

For some women, their iron levels reach a point where supplementation and diet are not able to help increase the level in the time needed. In some cases, you may not be able to absorb iron through your gut effectively. The doctor may recommend an iron infusion, which is given via an intravenous drip. You can have this in the Western Obstetrics clinic, and it takes around an hour in total. Your doctor can discuss the risks and benefits of this procedure.