Are you getting iron for your pregnancy health and your baby’s development?
Iron is an important nutrient that many pregnant women lack. Learn why it’s important for you and your baby—and how to get the amount you need.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world, and your iron needs increase during pregnancy. In fact, about half of all pregnant women don’t get enough iron. What’s going on?
During pregnancy, blood volume increases, as does the need for healthy red blood cells to support both you and your baby. To sustain more red blood cell production, your body needs twice as much iron. If you’re not taking in enough through your diet and/or a prenatal supplement, you may fall short of your target iron level. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia.
Why Iron Is Important for You and Your Baby
Your body needs iron to support enough healthy red blood cells to carry out their biggest role: carrying oxygen throughout your body. During pregnancy you need many, many more red blood cells to carry oxygen to your baby as well. Iron also helps support your baby’s growth, immunity, and brain and motor development. What can happen when you don’t get the iron level you need?
- Pregnant women who are anemic might be more likely to have a premature birth (giving birth before 37 weeks) and delivering a baby with a low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces at birth).
- Iron deficiency in infants and children can lead to learning difficulties if not treated.
Getting the Iron You Need
Experts recommend that pregnant women get 27 milligrams of iron a day. Good sources include these foods:
- Lean red meat
- Iron-fortified cereal
- Dried beans and lentils
- Seafood, such as clams, oysters, and sardines
Also make sure that your prenatal supplement contains iron.
One key thing to know about iron: Heme iron is readily absorbed and is present in meat, fish and poultry. Eating foods or drinking beverages high in vitamin C helps your body absorb iron from non-heme sources. These are good options:
- Orange juice
How to Watch for Iron Deficiency
Some of the signs of iron deficiency that you may spot:
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
- Pale skin
Your doctor will check your iron level at least once during your pregnancy as part of standard prenatal tests. But it’s smart to speak up if you have concerns about your iron level or notice symptoms that could indicate a deficiency or anemia.