Iron is a very important trace mineral because it is found in every cell of the body and essential to the development and growth of babies. However, an iron deficiency is a common problem for many women during pregnancy.
Iron requirements can more than double in order to help build new red blood cells for both mom and baby. Unfortunately, pregnant or lactating women, infants and vegetarians are among those most at risk for having low iron.
As someone who eats a primarily plant based diet I have personally struggled with low iron levels and it became an issue for me, like many women, during the later stages of pregnancy when the baby requires seven to eight mg of iron per day.
One of the first signs of a deficiency is weakness, fatigue, or loss of stamina, symptoms many expecting moms experience. Of course, just because you have these symptoms does not mean that you have an iron deficiency. But, if you eat a primarily plant-based diet and have had issues with low iron or anemia in the past, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare practitioner about your concerns and consider getting your iron levels checked.
Confirming a suspected deficiency is important before deciding to take a supplement because it competes with other minerals such as calcium and magnesium and unnecessary supplementation can lead to deficiencies of these important minerals.
There are many different types of iron supplements but you need to read the label to know what type of iron you buying, not all iron supplements are created equal. Many supplements are made with ferrous sulfate because it is less expensive but typically not as well absorbed and can be irritating to the digestive system leading to constipation which is a common complaint for many women taking iron, especially during pregnancy.
Looking for chelated iron, such as iron aspartate, ferrous succinate, and ferrous fumarate, or ferrous gluconate and ferrous lactate is ideal for maximum absorption. Buying a form of iron that is best absorbed by the body and gentle on the digestive tract will be your best.
You can also look to food sources to help boost your iron. There are two types of iron found in food, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is much more easily absorbed by the body and found in meat, chicken and seafood. Non-heme iron is unfortunately not as well absorbed which is why deficiencies among vegetarians and vegans is so common. Foods high in non-heme iron include many beans, lentils, quiona, pumpkin seeds and many dark leafy greens such as swiss chard and spinach.
The absorption of iron is increased with vitamin C. When taking your iron supplement consider also taking a vitamin C supplement or eating something high in vitamin C. It’s also a great idea to pair foods high in vitamin C such as citrus fruit or vegetables, red and green peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, tomatoes or dark leafy greens, with foods high in iron to maximize absorption.
Calcium can negatively impact or decrease iron absorption, so if you are taking calcium and iron make sure you don’t take them at the same time. Taking your calcium at night and iron supplement in the morning will eliminate this potential problem. It is also good to try and take your iron on an empty stomach to decrease the chances that other minerals will impact its absorption.
Have you suffered from low iron levels during your pregnancy? What have you done to keep your iron levels high? How has your low iron levels effected your pregnancy? I would love to hear about your experiences, please leave a comment below.