During pregnancy, iron plays a critical role in providing a woman’s body with ample energy and resources needed to sustain new life.  Let’s learn more with maternal health and nutrition Expert Lindsey Janeiro.

Iron is a micronutrient most people have heard about, and iron deficiency is one of the most commonly-known nutrient deficiencies. But did you know iron is one that you should pay a little more attention to during and after pregnancy?

Iron is important during pregnancy as its stores in the body often decrease during pregnancy. The good news is, if you typically have good iron prior to becoming pregnant, you have a greater chance of having higher iron throughout your pregnancy until you deliver.

Still, the number of women in the United States with anemia and iron deficiency increases from 12% of women who aren’t pregnant to 18% of women who are pregnant. Outside of the United States in underdeveloped countries, anemia and iron deficiency increases from 43% of non-pregnant women to 75% of pregnant women.

So why do more women become iron-deficient in pregnancy?

It is normal for every woman to see a drop in hemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen) during pregnancy due to an increase in blood volume.  After all, the body must circulate more blood to support two lives – that of the mother and the fetus. That’s why it’s so important to ensure adequate iron stores for maternal safety.

The Center for Disease Control states that low iron in pregnancy can lead to delivering your baby before you’re full term in your pregnancy, and can lead to a low-birth weight baby. Current research suggests that as long as a pregnant woman’s iron stores are above 6g/dL (ask your doctor where yours is!), it should not have an effect on the fetus’ growth. Research is also showing that worldwide, hemorrhage with anemia can lead to 20% of maternal deaths.

When you’re considering your postnatal nutrition for after you deliver the baby, the same consideration should be given to a diverse diet rich in iron sources. Whether you delivered your baby vaginally or by a Cesarean (C-section), there will be blood loss, and it is very common for women to have some iron deficiency immediately following delivery.

The amount of iron recommended during pregnancy is 27 mg daily, per the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). Typically most prenatal vitamins contain this amount – however, be careful as some prenatal vitamins, like gummy prenatal vitamins, don’t contain any iron. Talk to your obstetrician, but the ACOG recommends taking a daily prenatal vitamin to ensure all nutritional needs are met, on top of a balanced diet.

So, speaking of diet – how can you consume more iron in your diet?

Most people go straight to meat when they think about iron. This is true – animal protein (lean meat, poultry, and seafood) is a great source of iron, particularly heme iron. Iron in our food comes in two forms – heme and non-heme iron.

Basically, heme iron is absorbed easier in your body than non-heme iron. Heme sources of iron include lean meat, poultry, and seafood, whereas non-heme sources of iron will be plant-based, such as spinach and beans. Pay attention to other nutrients such as vitamin C that helps your body absorb non-heme iron better. Other compounds can have the opposite effect, including phytates (found in spinach and whole grains), polyphenols (like those in some cereals and legumes, coffee, tea, and some fruits and vegetables), and calcium which inhibits our body’s ability to easily absorb iron.

Remember, iron is an important micronutrient in prenatal and postnatal periods for women that can be absorbed through both heme and non-heme sources. Try to consume a variety of sources of iron in your diet, and talk to your doctor about taking a prenatal vitamin to ensure you’re meeting your daily iron and other nutritional needs.

Adapted from the original article.

Lindsey Janeiro RDN, CLC is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Counselor based in Sarasota, FL focused on helping busy moms live stress-free in the kitchen. She inspires moms with the confidence and encouragement they need to create simple, affordable family meals that nourishes everyone’s health and happiness. Learn more about Lindsey at Nutrition to Fit.