Meeting Your Iron needs During Pregnancy
Meeting your iron needs during pregnancy is essential for promoting optimal health for you and your baby. During pregnancy your iron needs increase because of the extra blood supply made to support you and your baby (1). As well, during the last trimester of pregnancy, you transfer approximately 350mg of iron to your baby to support them for their first 6 months of life (2). Read on to learn more about meeting your iron needs during pregnancy.
The Role of Iron During Pregnancy
Iron is an essential mineral that is found in many foods and supplements. During pregnancy, weeting your iron needs helps to support many bodily functions (3). This includes:
- Helping your cells work properly
- Creating an important component of red blood cells called hemoglobin
- Moving oxygen around your body
- Supporting your baby’s brain development
- Making DNA
- Breaking down food (3,4)
Meeting Your Iron Needs During Pregnancy
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) Preconception: 18 mg/ day
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) During Pregnancy: 27 mg/ day (4)
The RDA of 27 mg/day is recommended to ensure that the average healthy pregnant woman is meeting their iron needs during pregnancy. In addition, 27 mg per day allows you to build up your iron stores during early pregnancy to carry on into the third trimester.
Moreover, you only absorb approximately 25% of the iron you consume in a mixed diet. Therefore, consuming more iron than you need ensures that you are absorbing enough, allowing you to meet your iron needs (4).
Iron Supplementation During Pregnancy
Many pregnant women have trouble meeting increased iron needs with food alone. As a result, an iron supplement is often recommended during pregnancy. For example, a daily prenatal supplement that contains 16-20 mg of iron is typically recommended (4).
Many prenatal supplements contain the recommended amount of iron. Therefore, if you are already taking a prenatal vitamin with 16-20 mg of iron, an additional supplement may not be required.
Due to increased iron needs, it is recommended to begin taking a prenatal supplement 2-3 months before becoming pregnant. This will help ensure that your body has the nutrient stores to support you and your baby.
Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy
It is important to meet your iron needs during pregnancy to avoid iron deficiency (4). Iron deficiency can lead to:
- Low birth weight for baby
- Decreased ability to fight off infection
- Increased feeling of tiredness
- Preterm delivery
- Maternal anemia
- Increased risk of infant mortality (4)
Iron-Rich Food Sources for Pregnancy
To meet your iron needs during pregnancy, it is recommended to consume a variety of iron-rich foods. There are two types of iron found in food: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found in animal products, and non-heme iron is found in plant-based products. Of the two types, heme iron is more easily absorbed by your body (4).
Examples of Heme Iron Sources:
- Trout (4).
Examples of Non-Heme Iron Source:
- Enriched pasta
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas)
- Peanut & almond butter
- Enriched cereals (4).
Increasing Iron Absorption
Vitamin C can help to increase the absorption of non-heme iron (4). Sources of vitamin C include:
- Orange juice
- Red peppers
- Tomato sauce
- Grapefruit juice (4)
Inhibiting Iron Absorption
Some foods may contain substances that decrease or inhibit iron absorption. This can include:
- Phytates found in some legumes & vegetables
- Polyphenols found in tea & coffee
- Calcium found in dairy products (6)
Due to this, it is recommended to consume your iron sources separate from foods that contain inhibitors. However, eating vitamin C with iron can help to overcome some of these inhibitors.
Meals & Snacks to Meet your Iron Needs During Pregnancy
- Summertime Strawberry Oatmeal Muffins
- Spinach Banana Whole Wheat Muffins
- Berry & spinach smoothies
- Chicken & red pepper stir fry
- Pasta with tomato & meat sauce
- PB & J Overnight Oats
- Hamburgers with tomato & cucumber salad with a lemon dressing
- Strawberry & orange smoothie
Final Notes from The Nest
To summarize, meeting your iron needs of 27 mg per day during pregnancy is important to ensure optimal health of you and your baby. Taking a supplement that contains 16 – 20 mg of iron per day, along with eating foods that are high in iron will allow you to meet your iron needs during pregnancy (4). If you are concerned about iron-deficiency and/or meeting your iron needs, consult a Registered Dietitian for personalized recommendations.
Article written by Hailey Belaire
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- Bothwell TH. Iron requirements in pregnancy and strategies to meet them. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(1):257-264. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/72.1.257S
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation. Nutrition during pregnancy: Part I weight gain: Part II nutrient supplements. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1990. 14, Iron Nutrition During Pregnancy. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235217/
- UnlockFood [Internet]. Canada: Dietitians of Canada; c2020 [updated 2019 Feb 20; cited 2020 Oct 27]. What you need to know about iron; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-You-Need-To-Know-About-Iron.aspx
- Government of Canada. Prenatal nutrition guidelines for health professionals – iron contributes to a healthy pregnancy [Internet]. Ottawa: Government of Canada: 2009 [cited 2020 Oct 27] 10 p. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/food-nutrition/prenatal-nutrition-guidelines-health-professionals-iron-contributes-healthy-pregnancy-2009.html
- Dietitians of Canada. Pregnancy Summary of Recommendations and Evidence. Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition® [PEN] Knowledge Pathway Pregnancy. 2020, April 13 [cited 2020, August 3]. Available from: http://www.pennutrition.com. Access only by subscription. Click Sign Up on PEN login page.
- Hurrell, R., & Egli, I. (2010). Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(5), 1461S-1467S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2010.28674F.