Nutrition · Pregnancy

Why do you need more iron during pregnancy?

Expectant parent eating healthy food in a white bowlMy job is to counsel pregnant individuals for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. One of the most common concerns that I see in 90% of my clients is the struggle with low iron levels. Many share that they feel tired, weak, have difficulty concentrating, feel lightheaded, have cold hands/feet or suffer headaches. And they want to know why and what to do about it!

If you have a history of low iron, anemia or you are a vegetarian, discuss this with your healthcare professional.

Generally iron does two important things:

  1. It’s an important part of making red blood cells. Blood is what carries oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and to the fetus.
  2. Helps you maintain a strong and healthy immune system. Your immune system is your army against infections and diseases.

During pregnancy, you need a lot more of this essential mineral and here is why:

  • Your blood volume increases by 30-50% .This is to accommodate the demands of your growing baby and to carry nutrients to your organs as well as the fetus. Therefore, you need extra iron to make more red blood cells.
  • During the second and third trimester, your fetus and placenta are growing increasingly, therefore there is a need for more iron.
  • Many women start their pregnancy already with low iron supplies in their bodies which will continue into their pregnancy.

So how much daily iron do I need?

  • Non-pregnant women: 18 mg/day
  • Pregnant women: 27 mg/day

You don’t need to get that exact amount every day. Instead, you can aim to get this amount over the course of a few days or week.

Make sure you get a prenatal multivitamin containing 16-20 mg of iron every day. If you were low in iron before getting pregnant, talk to your health care professional as you may need additional iron supplementation.  

What foods have iron?

  • Heme iron is used easily by your body and is found in meat, chicken, fish and seafood.
  • Non-heme iron is from plant sources and eggs and it’s not as easily used by your body compared to the heme iron. This is one reason why vegetarian moms are at higher risk of iron deficiency.
  • To help your body get the most of the iron you take, avoid coffee and tea with your meals and include foods high in vitamin C in your diet.

Your doctor or midwife will be able to monitor your iron levels by doing a simple blood test.

Have more questions on Iron during pregnancy? Speak directly with a health professional on e-chat or call 416-338-7600.

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