Iron for a healthy pregnancy
Iron is an essential nutrient for everyday life, and becomes particularly important during pregnancy.1 Having iron deficiency anaemia whilst you are pregnant could mean your baby is more likely to be born early (premature) or be small (low birth weight).1
What is the extra iron for?
The placenta is a new organ that grows during pregnancy. Oxygen and nutrients from your blood travel through the placenta and into the umbilical cord to be delivered to your baby. Waste products that your baby makes travel back through the umbilical cord and across the placenta for your body to get rid of.2
During your pregnancy you will have almost double the amount of blood going around your body.3
Your blood is made up of plasma and red blood cells. You will need to increase the number of red blood cells , and to do this your body needs iron.3 Additionally, iron is needed for the placenta to grow and work properly.4
How Much Iron Do I Need?
The amount of iron you need changes across the different trimesters of your pregnancy. In the first trimester you save some iron from your periods stopping, but during the second and third trimesters your need for iron increases.3
In fact, you will need to have 1.5 times as much iron in your diet than before you were pregnant.5
Luckily, your body is designed to get as much iron as it can from your food, and absorption of iron from your food changes along with your baby’s needs. By the time you are 30 weeks pregnant your body works to absorb almost 90% of the iron you eat – 3 times as much as at 8 weeks.3
You can also help your body by eating an iron-rich diet. Please note that it is important to ask your doctor or midwife about the best foods to eat while you are pregnant since some foods should be avoided during pregnancy.6,7
However, even with an iron rich diet and the amazing adaptations of your body, it can be hard to get all the iron you need.3
Am I at risk for iron deficiency?
There are some factors that may put you at a higher risk of becoming iron deficient or developing iron deficiency anaemia:
- If you had low iron levels before you were pregnant
- If you have other children, especially if they are close in age
- If you are having twins, or more8
Your doctor or midwife will test your blood for iron deficiency anaemia during your pregnancy. However, it is important that you talk to them if you think you may be suffering from iron deficiency. You can check for symptoms of iron deficiency using the Symptom Browser.
Iron Deficiency and Delivery
If you have iron deficiency anaemia whilst you are pregnant, you may be less able to cope with any blood loss during delivery.8 It can also mean you are more likely to experience a lot of blood loss after the birth, known as postpartum haemorrhage.9
If you have your baby by caesarean section you are also at greater risk of heavy blood loss during birth and therefore postpartum iron deficiency whether you have an elective (planned) section or an emergency one.9 However, if you know you are going to have a caesarean section, particularly if it is because of complications with your placenta, you can help your body to cope by making sure you have plenty of iron.
To learn more about your iron needs after the birth of your baby, see our section on Iron for delivery and the early days.
Iron is important for your baby, but also for you. Don’t forget to take care of yourself so you can enjoy your life, and the experience of being pregnant, as much as possible.
- 1. a. b. Milman N. Prepartum anaemia: prevention and treatment. Ann Hematol. 2008;87(12):949-59. doi:10.1007/s00277-008-0518-4.
- 2. Desforges M, Sibley CP. Placental nutrient supply and fetal growth. Int J Dev Biol. 2010;54(2-3):377-90. doi:10.1387/ijdb.082765md.
- 3. a. b. c. d. e. Bothwell TH. Iron requirements in pregnancy and strategies to meet them. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(Suppl):257S-264S.
- 4. Cetin I, Berti C, Mandò C, Parisi F. Placental iron transport and maternal absorption. Ann Nutr Metab. 2011;59(1):55-8. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22123640. Accessed February 12, 2014.
- 5. McDermid J, Lönnerdal B. Iron. Adv Nutr. 2012;(1):532-533. doi:10.3945/an.112.002261.Table.
- 6. Hartmann S, Brørs O, Bock J, et al. Exposure to retinoic acids in non-pregnant women following high vitamin A intake with a liver meal. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2005;75(3):187-94. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16028634. Accessed February 7, 2014.
- 7. Evans EC. The FDA recommendations on fish intake during pregnancy. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2002;31(6):715-20. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12465868. Accessed February 7, 2014.
- 8. a. b. Breymann C. Iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy. Expert Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2013;8(6):587-596. doi:10.1586/17474108.2013.842683.
- 9. a. b. Briley A, Seed PT, Tydeman G, et al. Reporting errors, incidence and risk factors for postpartum haemorrhage and progression to severe PPH: A prospective observational study. BJOG An Int J Obstet Gynaecol. 2014;121(7):876-888. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12588.