Effects Of Iron During Pregnancy

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Iron forms part of the red blood pigment, haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around both your body and that of your baby. It is also involved in the production of energy and in immunity.

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Women suffering from iron deficiency in pregnancy are much more likely to develop Candida (thrush) infections, for example. You need more iron during pregnancy as your total blood volume increases by around a third.

A common symptom of lack of iron during pregnancy is a craving for strange foods such as soil or coal; this is known as pica. If it happens to you during pregnancy, start taking a supplement containing iron immediately—ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice on dosage.

Your doctor may also want to perform a blood test to check your iron stores as iron deficiency increases the risk of poor fetal growth and low birth weight.

How much you need: US recommended dietary allowances suggest that iron requirements should double during preg­nancy, from 15 mg to 30 mg per day.

The EU RDA for adults is 14 mg, while the UK reference nutrient intake is 14.8 mg per day. The UK does not suggest any additional iron during pregnancy unless a woman has previously had heavy periods (putting her at risk of iron deficiency anaemia).

Lack of dietary iron is common, however, and intakes are frequently 30 per cent lower than recommended. A supplement specially formu­lated for pregnancy that contains some iron is therefore a good idea.


Avoid taking too much iron as this can cause constipation or indigestion, and excess is toxic. Iron supplements given alone can decrease the absorption of zinc, as well as other essential minerals (e.g. manganese, chromium and selenium) so some specialists advise that iron should be given in combi­nation with these.


Good dietary sources for pregnant women include:

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- red meat;

- seafood, especially sardines;

- brewer’s yeast;

- wholegrain cereals and wheatgerm;

- egg yolks;

- green leafy vegetables;

- dried fruit e.g. prunes.


Haem iron found in red meat is most easily absorbed. Veg­etarians, and those who eat little red meat, are therefore at increased risk of iron deficiency. Overboiling vegetables decreases their iron availability by up to 20 per cent.

Vitamin C increases the absorption of inorganic iron, whilst calcium and tannin-containing drinks (e.g. tea) decrease it. Wash iron tablets down with orange juice rather than coffee, as coffee can reduce iron absorption by up to 39 per cent if drunk within an hour of eating.

Your absorption of dietary iron generally becomes more efficient during pregnancy, however.