Iron is essential in the human diet at all stages of life, but it’s perhaps more important than ever while a woman is pregnant. In fact, most women need about twice as much iron as they usually do while they are pregnant. Pregnant women’s bodies demand more iron because of the increase in blood supply they experience while carrying a child. This requires many pregnant women to eat more iron-rich foods during pregnancy and to take iron supplements to maintain optimal health for themselves and their growing babies.
This article will explain why iron is so important for women’s bodies during pregnancy and the best iron rich foods for pregnancy to eat when expecting a new baby.
Low Iron in Pregnancy & What to Eat
According to the American Pregnancy Association, a woman’s body increases its blood volume by 30 to 50 percent during pregnancy, requiring the heart to work harder to nourish the fetus. Because of this higher blood volume, pregnant women need to consume more iron and folic acid in order to prevent iron deficiency anemia. The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and weakness. These symptoms can all make a woman’s pregnancy much more difficult, and such a deficiency can even put her baby at risk of low birth weight and premature delivery.
Risk Factors for Low Iron During Pregnancy
Most pregnant women need approximately 27 milligrams of iron per day to avoid the potential risks of affecting a baby due to anemia. Certain factors put some pregnant women at more of a risk of low iron during pregnancy than others. For example, women who have a history of pre-pregnancy anemia, women who have a history of heavy menstrual flows, and women who frequently vomit due to morning sickness are more likely to become deficient in iron while pregnant.
Iron Rich Foods During Pregnancy
Fortunately, there are many nutritious foods that women can eat while they are pregnant to fuel their bodies and the bodies of their babies with the necessary iron. To begin, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take prenatal vitamins that contain iron. For some women, the iron contained in prenatal vitamins is insufficient for their needs, at which time a doctor may prescribe additional iron supplements.
The iron contained in meat and other animal-based products is absorbed most easily in the body. Therefore, some of the best iron rich foods for pregnancy are lean red meat, fish, and poultry. However, vegan and vegetarian women can also get the iron their bodies need during pregnancy from non-meat sources. For example, meat-free iron rich foods during pregnancy include dried beans, peas, prune juice, and iron-fortified breakfast cereal. It also helps to pair iron-rich foods for pregnancy with foods high in vitamin C, such as oranges and strawberries, to aid iron absorption.
To help women adjust their diets and plan meals around iron rich foods during pregnancy, here is a list of healthy foods that contain substantial amounts of iron for daily consumption:
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes