Iron is all around you. It’s a mineral used to help make your vehicles, appliances, utensils, cookware, and so much more. It’s also used to help build bridges and buildings that support the world’s infrastructure.
The world would be a different place without iron. And so would your body.
That’s right. Even your body uses iron, especially during pregnancy. Find out why iron is important, how much you need during pregnancy, and how to meet your daily iron needs.
Why is iron important during pregnancy?
Iron helps your body produce hemoglobin, a type of protein in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen to all the tissues throughout your body. This nutrient is essential for everyone but becomes increasingly important for pregnant women.
As your pregnancy progresses, your body produces more red blood cells to help deliver oxygen and nutrients to your baby. In fact, your blood volume increases by nearly 50% throughout your entire pregnancy. Your body is resilient, constantly adapting to support the growth and development of your little one. But without enough iron, your body may not be able to produce enough red blood cells to maintain a healthy blood supply.
Iron also plays a role in the physical growth and neurological development of your baby.
How much iron do you need during pregnancy?
Remember that your blood supply increases by nearly 50% during pregnancy. Coincidentally, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron during pregnancy increases by 50% from your pre-pregnancy requirement. While non-pregnant women need about 18 mg of iron per day, the RDA for iron during pregnancy is 27 mg. This increased need for iron begins during the second trimester and continues throughout pregnancy.
Some women may need more iron during pregnancy to support healthy iron levels and adequate blood production. Make sure you talk with your healthcare provider to determine your iron needs during pregnancy.
What foods are high in iron?
Iron from food comes in two forms: heme iron and non-heme iron.
Animal-based foods like beef, poultry, seafood, and organ meats contain heme iron. This type of iron is the easiest for your body to absorb.
Non-heme iron is mostly found in plant foods like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and fortified cereals. While this form of iron isn’t as easy for the body to absorb, it’s still a great way for vegetarians, vegans, or those who don’t regularly eat meat to boost their iron intake. Keep in mind: if you rely solely on non-heme food sources of iron to meet your needs, you actually need 1.8 times more iron than the RDA to make sure your body can absorb enough. If that seems overwhelming, a high-quality iron supplement can help you reach your iron goals.
How can you make sure you get enough iron during pregnancy?
According to a recent study, about 50% of pregnant women don’t get enough iron, and many don’t get their iron levels checked. Take a look at these tips to pump up your iron intake and support a healthy pregnancy.
- Include iron-rich foods. Whether you eat meat regularly or choose to follow a more plant-based diet, there are still food sources of iron that can help you meet your needs. Honor your food preferences while including as many iron-rich foods as you can. Try lean cuts of beef or pork, poultry, low-mercury seafood, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, or iron-fortified grains.
- Use vitamin C as your secret weapon. Vitamin C can help increase the absorption of non-heme iron. Try eating vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruit, broccoli, kiwi, or bell peppers along with your iron foods.
- Separate calcium and iron. Vitamin C is team iron, but calcium is not. High doses of calcium can interfere with iron absorption, so try to avoid calcium-rich foods with meals that provide most of your dietary iron and separate calcium supplements and iron supplements by at least two hours. Low doses of calcium found in most prenatal vitamins should not be a problem.
- Cook with cast-iron pans. Cooking some foods, particularly acidic foods, in a cast-iron pan may increase their iron content. You shouldn’t rely on cast-iron cookware to provide all your iron, but it can give you a little boost.
- Choose a high-quality prenatal vitamin with iron. Your nutrient needs increase during pregnancy, and a high-quality prenatal vitamin can help bridge any gaps in your diet. Make sure you choose a product that contains iron so your body can produce enough blood to support you and your baby throughout your entire pregnancy.
Just like iron supports infrastructure around the world, it’s an important component of the infrastructure within your body. It helps produce red blood cells that transport and deliver oxygen throughout your body and to your baby, so make sure you get enough. Discuss your iron needs with your healthcare provider, include iron-rich foods every day, and choose a high-quality prenatal vitamin to help you meet your iron needs.