Did you know that, during pregnancy, your blood volume increases by around 30-50%!? How crazy is that! That’s a whole lotta extra blood. Not surprising, really, as we need to carry extra nutrients around in our blood to get them to our mini-human. One of these essential nutrients, that I’m sure you’re all well aware of, is iron, which (among other things) is required to make haemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body. And that’s kinda important, don’t you think? However, as our blood volume increases, we need to make more haemoglobin. Which means we need more iron….especially from 2nd trimester onwards.
It’s for this reason that many women (myself included) may see a drop in their iron levels later in their pregnancy. Now while it’s not a huge cause for concern if your iron levels drop a little, if you do find yourself in the severely anemic category, then this can potentially create issues, including increased risk of premature delivery and low birth weight.
Do be sure to get tested properly before jumping to any conclusions yourself and potentially treating the issue unnecessarily, OK?
I also watched a really fascinating webinar the other day on The Breast Microbiome (and yes – I am THAT nerdy), which mentioned some research around high-dose iron supplementation in the later stages of pregnancy (as a last minute “oh shit let’s fix your low iron levels ASAP) may in fact increase pathogenic (AKA bad) bacteria in the breast, which may increase your risk of mastitis while breastfeeding. Interesting, right?
I mentioned this research to my super-smart friend Nikki (who is an amazing naturopath here in Wanaka) and she said….”Hmm – perhaps then the lower iron levels in late-stage pregnancy may be our body’s natural way of preventing against mastitis later on….”
Again – interesting hypothesis!
Personally, I think it is probably wise to try and get in adequate iron, through food sources rather than supplementation, right from day 1 of your pregnancy (and preferably in the pre-conception window to improve fertility and decrease the likelihood of you entering into pregnancy already in a deficient state).
So…given that the RDI for iron in pregnancy is 27mg/day, how can we get this?
- Consume iron-rich foods (duh. I’ll go into this more below)
- Avoid consuming foods that may inhibit iron absorption when eating iron-rich meals
- Include foods that increase iron absorption to iron-rich meals
OK let’s dive deeper….
Consume Iron-Rich Foods
First of all, you want to focus on getting most of your iron from foods containing “haem-iron”. This is the kind you will find in animal sources, and is much more bioavailable (readily absorbed and utilised by the body) than “non-haem iron”, which is found in your plant-based sources. K?
The absolute bomb-diggity of iron-packed superfoods (along with pretty much every other vitamin and mineral…almost) is liver. 100g of chicken liver (please choose organic) will give you about 12mg of iron. Hurrah! Now I know there are probably a few of you freaking out about having too much vitamin A from liver during pregnancy. I encourage you to please read THIS POST. If you’re low in iron, and want to stay within the conservative recommendations for vitamin A*, I would say 50g of chicken liver per day would be a great addition to your diet.
*Please also take into account the vitamin A content of any supplements you might be taking
Higher in iron than liver (though probably not something you would eat as regularly, especially in pregnancy), is clams at 28mg per 100g! Wowsers! They are also an excellent source of many other nutrients. Superfoods of the sea, I like to call shellfish! Just be sure to cook them really well and know that they are super-fresh if you choose to eat them during pregnancy.
Next we have red meat. Beef is best (3.5mg/100g). Then kangaroo (3.2mg/100g). Then lamb (2.5mg/100g)
And then we move onto the plant sources…..
The highest in the plant world would have to be spinach at 3.6g per 100g cooked (that’s a lot of raw!!).
One of my favourite choices for iron-rich plant foods would have to be spirulina at 2mg per tablespoon (because, let’s be honest, you’re probably not going to have more than 1T per day. It may be a superfood, but it tastes like pond scum).
Just 1 cup of cooked lentils will give you 6.6mg of iron, along with folate, magnesium, potassiuim and fibre (all needed during pregnancy).
Pumpkin seeds! One 30g serve will give you about 4.2mg of iron. Woo hoo!
Cooked quinoa (I love me a good quinoa porridge) will provide 2.8mg of iron per one cup cooked.
Blackstrap molasses has about 4mg per tablespoon (though I probably wouldn’t suggest a T of this every day. Especially if you have any blood sugar issues).
Now these plant sources are all well and good, HOWEVER, non-haem iron is not as readily absorbed and utilised by the body as haem-iron, so….
Be sure to include vitamin C rich foods with non-haem iron to increase absorption
- Kiwi fruit
- Red capsicum
- Camu camu powder (if you feel like getting a bit fancy)
Also – with both sources of iron (animal and plant) do….
Try to avoid consuming foods and drinks which may INHIBIT iron absorption
- Calcium-rich foods and supplements
I’m not saying you can’t have these. Just keep them separate from your iron-rich meals.
If you do end up needing a supplement, perhaps look into a liquid iron supplement, as these tend to be less constipating than most.
And FINALLY – do get your iron levels tested regularly, as too much iron is just as problematic as too little.
Hope this helps!