Getting enough of this vital nutrient during pregnancy is essential. Here’s why … writes Kate Kelly
Women have high dietary iron requirements and when you are pregnant you need even more iron in your diet than usual, particularly during the final three months.
This is important to help prevent anaemia during or after pregnancy.
The additional iron is required for the expansion of blood volume and the tissue development that accompanies pregnancy.
How much is enough?
Before you conceive and during pregnancy, you need 14.8 milligrams of iron per day.
Food is the best source of iron.
However, 14.8mg a day is quite a lot and some women struggle to achieve this, which is why iron supplements can be a handy and practical option, particularly for vegetarian or vegan women, as we will see.
The most readily available iron is found in meat (e.g. beef, lamb, pork), fish (e.g. mackerel, haddock, sardines) or chicken.
Iron from vegetables, cereals, pulses (peas, beans, lentils) and eggs is less well absorbed.
Liver is also a source of iron but pregnant women are advised not to eat liver due to its high vitamin A content.
What if I don’t eat enough iron?
Iron is an essential mineral for healthy blood and normal growth and development.
It is important because we need it to make haemoglobin, which helps our red blood cells to store and carry oxygen around our bodies.
Past surveys have found that almost half of Irish women aged between 18 and 50 have an inadequate iron intake.
A lack of iron in the diet can lead to non-specific symptoms such as tiredness, difficulty in concentrating, feeling cold and catching every bug going.
Many women put these symptoms down to a busy lifestyle and trying to juggle too many things at once but they could be suffering from low iron levels, also known as anaemia.
How will I know if I am anaemic?
Your haemoglobin levels will usually be checked and monitored as part of your routine blood tests during your antenatal appointments.
If your levels drop below the normal level for your stage of pregnancy, your GP, midwife or consultant may prescribe an iron supplement.
Will anaemia affect my baby?
Unless you are very severely anaemic, you don’t need to worry about your baby, as your body make sure he receives the nutrients he requires from your reserves.
This is why you will need to look after yourself, as anaemia will make you feel very rundown and tired.
Severe anaemia during pregnancy, however, could give you an increased risk of a baby with a low birth weight and who is born with low iron levels, which can prompt problems later on.
From you own point of view, you run the risk of going in to labour early and picking up an infection during pregnancy.
The good news is that iron deficiency is easy to avoid, by ensuring that you have a varied, iron-rich diet or by taking a suitable iron supplement.
And if you should become anaemic during the course of your pregnancy, it is easily identified and treated.
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