How to Prevent Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy

iron deficiency

Do you know that some pregnant women chew weird stuff like ice, chalk, clay and even sand? This sounds strange but it is due to a condition called ‘Pica’ which is sometimes attributed to iron deficiency anaemia. When you think about all the weird cravings some pregnant women have, this begins to make sense.

There are various kinds of anemia but iron deficiency anemia is the most common. When a woman is pregnant, there is a 30-50% increase in her blood volume to support her and the foetus. This in turn, decreases her blood’s haemoglobin concentration.

Since the body needs iron to make haemoglobin, red blood-cell production slows without sufficient iron stores. This is why a pregnant woman’s daily iron requirement increases to 27mg from around 13mg as there is always a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy.

The following symptoms are pointers to iron deficiency anemia:
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Frequent Headaches
  • Dizziness and shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Numbness or cold feeling in the hands and feet

Although the baby may not be affected because it takes all the iron needed to thrive first before the mother if left untreated, the anemia can become severe. This might result in poor fetal growth, preterm birth or low birth weight, as well as increasing the mother’s risk of requiring a blood transfusion during delivery or having postpartum depression.

While iron can either be gotten through supplements, the following tips can help you maintain normal levels of iron through your diet during pregnancy:

  • It’s all in what we eat

We can get two forms of iron through our diet: heme and non-heme. Heme iron originates from animal sources and is easier for your body to absorb. Non-heme iron can be found in plant-based, iron-fortified foods, and supplements. Both heme and non-heme iron can be found in red meat, poultry, and seafood. To make sure you are getting enough, eat a variety of iron-rich foods every day.

  • A good time for beef

Some of the best sources of iron can be gotten from red meat, poultry-, and fish. A particularly high concentration of iron can be found in animal liver – which we call édó. However, it also contains unsafe amounts of vitamin A so consume sparingly. It’s best to limit liver consumption to one or two servings a month during pregnancy. If you are on a strictly vegetarian diet, you can still get iron from legumes like beans, peas, peanuts; vegetables, and grains.

  • Good for your bones but…

While it’s an important nutrient, calcium can also hinder iron absorption. If you have a recommendation from your doctor to take both an iron and a calcium supplement, be sure to ask for advice on how to space them out during the day.

  • Vitamin ‘C’ for the win

While calcium can be like speed bumps on your path to iron sufficiency, Vitamin C is a six-lane freeway. You just can’t go wrong with it so include a source of vitamin C in every meal, especially when eating vegetarian sources of iron, like beans. Examples include orange juice, actual oranges, tangerine, lemon, melon, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Including vitamin C in your diet can help you absorb up to six times more iron.

  • Other inhibitors

There are lots of healthy foods but there is a time for them and pregnancy demands that you become a bit picky with your diet. A number of healthy foods contain “iron inhibitors”– naturally occurring substances that can interfere with iron absorption (remember calcium up there?). This might not be a bother when it’s just you but with the little one snuggled in there, you need as much as you can. Examples of iron inhibitors include phytates in whole grains and legumes, polyphenols in coffee and tea, oxalates in soy foods and spinach, as well as calcium in dairy products.

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