by James T. Gibson
Getting the right amount of iron in a diet brings to mind the story of the three little bears.
Goldilocks tried baby bear's chair. It was too small. Papa's chair was way too big, but momma's was just right.
Just like that chair, the amount of iron in your diet can be too small, just right or (rarely for pregnant women) too much. What's the best way to ensure you're getting just the right amount?
More Need for Iron During Pregnancy
A woman's daily iron needs nearly double during pregnancy. You can blame it on the increased blood volume flowing through your body.
Iron helps your body make the hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen. Once transported to the placenta, it helps your baby develop.
How much is just right? The registered daily allowance for iron is 27 mg each day from food sources and supplements.
Being tired all the time could suggest anemia, but you might have a hard time figuring out if you're tired because you're iron deficient or just exhausted from pregnancy. A blood test is the only way to know for sure.
Your midwife or doctor will probably check your iron levels at prenatal appointment to be sure they're within the normal range.
Severe iron deficiency known as anemia has been linked to premature births and low birth weight babies so if they're low, they might suggest additional iron supplements.
Iron supplements: Prenatal vitamins contain extra iron. If you're anemic, you might also be taking an iron supplement. Iron supplements can cause nausea, loss of appetite and constipation. If you're suffering from these symptoms, ask about taking a lower dose and focus on getting as much iron as possible from food.
Vegetables sources: Seed, beans, lentils, dark-green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and whole grains are all good sources of iron.
Animal sources: You find iron in beef, poultry, pork, fish and egg yolks.
- Cook iron-rich foods in a cast iron skillet. Some of the iron gets into the food.
- Your body absorbs iron better when you eat food high in vitamin C along with your iron-rich foods.
- Check food labels. As you calculate your daily intake, be aware that the percentage listed is based on the non-pregnant 18 mg daily requirement and now you need 27 mg.
- If your prenatal makes you feel sick, try taking it at night.
- Plan snacks and meals around iron-rich foods like savory winter vegetable soup, quick and easy chimichangas, mango molasses lassi, and hummus and pita bread.
Too Much Iron
Recent studies involving healthy pregnant women suggest that daily iron supplements might not be a good thing. One study found an increase incidence of high blood pressure in moms-to-be who took daily iron supplements.
A second study found that daily iron supplements raised the blood levels of certain iron-containing chemicals. These moms were more apt to give birth early or have low birth weight babies. Ironically, both early gestational iron-deficiency anemia and hemoconcentration later in pregnancy increase the risk of premature birth and low birth weight. The researchers suggest that too much iron supplementation can cause the same problems it is supposed to correct.
Both authors suggest that pregnant women work with their providers to get just the right amount of iron -- for them and their baby.
What's your favorite way to get iron or what has worked best for you?
SOURCES: Brown, V. "Reproductive Toxicity: Too Much of a Good Thing?" Environ Health Perspect. 2006 October; 114(10): A578.
Ziaei S, Norrozi M, Faghihzadeh S, Jafarbegloo E. "A randomised placebo-controlled trial to determine the effect of iron supplementation on pregnancy outcome in pregnant women with haemoglobin > or = 13.2 g/dl." BJOG. 2007 Jun;114(6):684-8.
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