Your iron levels need to increase during pregnancy, it’s needed for your body to make haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to other cells in your body. Also, your growing baby needs iron, and will store it for use in the first six months of life outside the womb. Which is why you need to increase your intake of iron to prevent anaemia during pregnancy.
During pregnancy your body produces more blood. In the second half of pregnancy you will have up to 50% more blood volume. During this time it is normal for your haemoglobin levels to go down as the red blood cells can’t increase fast enough to keep up with the higher volume of blood. If you have enough stored iron (ferritin), then you won’t notice many, or even any, physical effects of lower haemoglobin levels.
But if you’re lacking enough red blood cells and stored iron to meet the increased demand pregnancy makes on your body, you could become anaemic. And if you don’t treat it, severe anaemia can increase your risk of serious complications like preterm delivery and low birth weight in your baby. It’s also associated with a higher risk of stillbirth or newborn death.
Signs of Anaemia During Pregnancy
Some women might not experience any of these symptoms while some can experience only a few of the symptoms;
- Pale skin (especially fingernails, inside of eyelids, and lips)
- Extreme fatigue
- Feeling of weakness
- Changes in blood pressure when standing up
- Frequent headaches
- Cracked or red tongue
- Loss of appetite
While many of these symptoms seem common during pregnancy, but they can also be signs of iron deficiency.
Preventing anaemia during pregnancy?
Eating iron rich foods before and during pregnancy will help prevent anaemia and red meat is not the only source of iron, there are foods rich in iron that are not animal-based. Red meat, fish, poultry, liver(eat very little as it conatins vitamin A), are foods rich in haeme iron. Your body can only absorb up to 25% of the iron in haeme sources.
Non-haeme iron sources are eggs, spinach, kidney beans and lentils, almonds, and iron fortified cereals and less than 5% of iron from non-haeme sources is absorbed. Although, eating foods rich in vitamin C with non-haeme sources can improve absorption of the available iron.
Here are some foods that reduce the absorption of iron; coffee, tea and wine, and milk. So while taking iron supplements do not take it with milk.
And if you suspect you are deficient in iron, speak to your doctor who will order a iron test and prescribe the necessary drugs.