Some women are low on iron even when not pregnant. But once we’re pregnant, it becomes even more likely for the masses. Here’s everything you need to know about getting enough iron during pregnancy.
What does iron do in our bodies?
Iron plays such a large role in our bodies that you might end up asking, “What does iron NOT do?!”
Iron is essential for the following:
– Transporting oxygen to cells throughout the body, and CO2 to the lungs.
– Red blood cell production
– Metabolism: Converting blood sugar to energy
– Enzyme production (for hormones, neurotransmitters, amino acids, and cell generation/regeneration)
– Immune system strengthening
– Encouraging optimal physical/mental growth by carrying oxygen for red blood cells. Therefore, iron is crucial for a growing fetus, infant, or child.
Why do we need to consume iron?
Our bodies do not produce iron on their own, therefore we must consume it via food or drink, mineral supplement, herbs, or homeopathy.
Symptoms of Low Iron
If iron stores are low, normal hemoglobin production slows down, which means the transport of oxygen is diminished. Possible symptoms include:
-Low blood pressure
-Increased heart rate due to less oxygen (the heart overcompensates by trying to pump more)
What do the blood test numbers mean?
A blood test determines if you have iron deficiencies in your blood, which could lead to anemia (too few red blood cells). The test usually shows results for hemoglobin, hematocrit, and iron stores (ferritin). Note that percentages/ratios are slightly lower in pregnancy due to the 30-50% increase in blood volume, and therefor numbers might be lower than when not pregnant, yet still be within range for pregnancy.
Hemoglobin, Hematocrit and Ferritin
1. Hemoglobin Levels: Hemoglobin (Hb) is the oxygen-carrying protein in your red blood cells. The expected level is between 10.5 to 15 grams/deciliter (a deciliter is 1/10 of a liter).
NOTE: Hemoglobin can be written without the decimal point. For example, 11.2 gm% is the same as 112 g/L. Your blood test results list it in either or both formats.
2. Hematocrit Levels
Hematocrit is the percentage of red blood cells in your blood. In pregnancy, a healthy range is around 30-35%.
3. Ferritin (iron stores): If this number is low, but your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels are fine, it stands to reason that you are simply using up your stores quickly.
How do we lose iron in the body?
Iron is lost via these processes:
-Exfoliating (dead skin cells)
-Bleeding. Since we women bleed regularly during our monthly cycles, we are more at risk than men for low stores of iron. During pregnancy, both babies and mothers need extra iron: Babies need enough iron for growth in-utero, and mothers need enough iron in general, and specifically in case of excessive blood loss after the birth.
How can I increase my iron levels?
The main issue with iron intake is to ensure proper absorption. Consume iron with vitamin C and NOT with calcium nor caffeine, within an hour before/after.
If your Hb levels are 11g or lower, you need to supplement. Use any of these methods continually through the pregnancy:
- Chlorophyll: 1-2 Tb/day
- An herbal tincture of yellow dock, nettles, dandelion, and black strap molasses
- A commercial supplement such as SpaTone.
If your levels are stable:
Cool! You obviously have the nutrition to provide enough iron. Keep it going with the following nutritional guidelines:
- Heme Iron (easier to absorb) comes from red meat, poultry, and fish.
- Non-heme iron is less easily absorbed, but is still healthy, and is suitable for non-meat eaters. Non-heme iron comes from:
-Seaweed (especially Nori)
-Dark green leafy vegetables
-Wheat Germ/Wheat Grass juiced drinks
-Seeds: Pumpkin, Sesame, Squash
Iron in pregnancy affects both mother and baby. To ensure proper iron levels, use the instructions above. As always, feel confident to tailor instructions for your lifestyle, in order to make iron consumption as easy for you as possible.