You need one gram of iron to grow a baby. That’s the iron equivalent of 177 steaks! <1> When it comes to pre-pregnancy planning, our primary focus is usually making sure we’re getting enough folic acid to prevent complications… but it looks like we need to add iron to the list.
Iron plays a very important role in pregnancy.
A low-grade or undetected deficiency can interfere with a healthy pregnancy and may even affect future pregnancies.
Iron helps deliver oxygen to our cells and it’s carried by our red blood cells. Without enough iron, we can feel very tired, have pale skin and gums, and we might get sick more often.
If our ferritin levels are low, we have an iron deficiency.
This means our storage of iron is low and we may become anemic in the future. A diagnosis of anemia means we don’t have enough iron to make hemoglobin, the important carrier of oxygen in our blood.
All menstruating women are prone to iron deficiency due to our monthly blood loss, so many enter into their pregnancy already deficient.
During pregnancy, our daily iron need increases from 18 mg to 27 mg per day.
Our body is increasing our blood supply by 30 – 50 percent, which uses a lot of iron! It’s no surprise that 23 percent of pregnant Canadians end up anemic, according to the World Health Organization. <2>
If our iron stores aren’t high before pregnancy, it can be hard for the body to keep up during these fast-growing months, especially during the third trimester. Iron deficiency in pregnancy increases the risk of a baby with low birth weight and pre-term labor. <3>
It can also add to the fatigue that most women face during pregnancy, so ruling out an iron deficiency is important. Don’t assume your fatigue is just a normal symptom; ask your doctor or midwife to check your iron levels to make sure you’re in range.
For many women, iron stores don’t rebound after their pregnancy.
This can complicate future pregnancies. You need extra iron during breastfeeding as well. It can be harder to increase your iron stores if you start your next pregnancy with low iron.
Research shows that only one in three women get their iron tested before they’re pregnant, and only half who were found to be deficient are treated with iron!
In my nutrition practice, many women complain about the very unpleasant digestive issues that are common with some iron supplements. Sometimes, the fatigue is easier to deal with than the constipation and tummy upset caused by traditional iron supplements.
Fortunately, you have many other options that will keep your tummy happy while increasing your iron stores.
How to keep your iron levels balanced before, during, and after pregnancy
1. Eat iron-rich food
We tend to think of red meat and liver as the best sources of dietary iron, but there are lots of vegetarian options too!
A half-cup of white beans has almost as much iron as 3 oz. of beef liver! Lentils, tofu, cooked spinach, and cashews are also great sources.
2. Add some vitamin C
This antioxidant vitamin helps our body absorb iron properly, especially the vegetarian sources of iron.
Just add a squeeze of lemon juice onto your cooked spinach, add some red peppers to your bean salad, or have some broccoli with your tofu.
3. Take an easy-to-absorb iron supplement
If your doctor diagnoses you with low iron or anemia, you might leave the appointment with a prescription for a high dose of ferrous sulfate. Common side effects of this form of iron are constipation, acid reflux, and black tarry stool. But don’t worry, there are great alternatives!
Floradix and Floravit (or Floravital in the US) are easily digestible, whole food iron supplements that can keep your iron stores at a healthy level throughout your pregnancy, without any tummy troubles.
Floradixis a liquid iron, where the iron (ferrous gluconate) has been fully dissolved into the solution. Plus, it’s full of all the co-factors needed to help absorb the iron.
Floravit/Floravital is a gluten-free/yeast-free version that is safe to take throughout your pregnancy and breastfeeding.
No matter where you are in your pregnancy journey, from early planning to post-pregnancy recovery, it’s important to keep a close eye on your iron levels.
Always remember, you don’t need to suffer through the terrible digestive side effects found in those high-dose iron supplements. Floradix is a gentle and absorbable alternative. It’s the best-selling iron supplement in North America because women love it!
Lisa Kilgour is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), founder ofLisaKilgour.com, and a faculty member at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.