Iron is especially important during pregnancy as it helps carry oxygen around your body in the red blood cells. Both you and your baby need a healthy amount of oxygen for numerous reasons.
As your pregnancy progresses your blood volume increases causing your red blood cells to appear to be more diluted. This is often when pregnant women feel faint, dizzy or become anemic. If this is happening to you don’t despair.
Feeling faint or light-headed
Blood tests show Hb levels below 10.5grams per decilitre (g/dl)
Being unusually pale
Feeling short of breath
Feeling weak and tired all the time
Gums and whites of eyes look white or paler than usual.
It's a normal natural occurrence for your levels (Haemoglobin or Hb) count to drop slightly as long as it is within safe limits.
Take a serious look at your eating habits and check out whether you're aiding or hindering your Iron absorption. Chances are you can increase your levels by altering your diet. Always see your Health Practitioner too. He or she’ll be impressed that you've researched what foods you need to eat and which to avoid! It's really common for women to carry on with their pre-pregnancy habits of having a nice cup of tea or coffee with their breakfast. And also taking coffee or tea throughout their busy day. After a few months it's not unusual to be diagnosed with mild to moderate anemia.
Certain foods hinder absorption of this mineral. Coffee and tea for instance contain a group of plant chemicals known as tannins that can affect absorption from plant-based foods. Dairy milk (i.e. cow’s milk) affects absorption of certain minerals from animal sources such as meat.
So if you like a nice strong cup of tea or coffee with milk then try to drink these beverages two hours after main meals to avoid interfering with mineral absorption. It’s both the tannins and the milk that interfere with the absorption.
On the other hand, beverages that have vitamin C in them, like Orange or Grapefruit juice, will enhance the absorption of iron. So try and have a drink of a high Vitamin C fruit juice with your meal or close to meal times. Ideas would be apricot juice, orange juice, cherry or cranberry juice. Go to vitamin C page for more ideas on vitamin C-rich foods.
Foods With High Iron
This mineral is found to some extent in most foods, but the highest levels will be in meat (beef, lamb, chicken, veal etc). For vegetarians beans and lentils are a good source.
Dried fruits like Apricots and Dates also contain high levels. I would always advise my pregnant moms to keep some dark chocolate and dried apricots with them for a quick, iron-rich snack in late pregnancy.
A good idea is to try different kinds of beans in a few meals; Butter beans have 7mg per 100g of iron. Red lentils (Dhal) are also very good. Cashew nuts and Almonds also have high levels. Keep a pack of almonds or cashews with you in case of hunger pangs.
With breakfast cereals why not add a few berries such as goji, blackcurrants or raspberries as a vitamin C carrier. Don’t forget a glass of vitamin C-rich fruit juice too. A nice addition to cereal is a chopped up kiwifruit. One of these fruits has about 2% of the daily requirement of this mineral.
Spinach has a global reputation for being high in iron. It does also contain an ingredient that deters it's absorption. As Mother Nature is so clever she's compensated for this by adding vitamin A and vitamin C to spinach thus aiding absorption of the minerals. So you can use spinach in your cooking knowing that you’ll get a healthy dose of a useful mineral.
If you've been told that you are anemic don't panic. There are many things you can do to rectify the situation.
1. Follow the dietary advice above by reducing tea & coffee intake and increasing vitamin C foods and beverages in your diet.
2. Find fruit drinks you enjoy to have instead of tea and coffee.
3. Take whatever supplements have been prescribed.
4. Check that you aren't having any side effects (see below).
5. If you are having side-effects see your Doctor and ask for a change in prescription as the current pills are disagreeing with you.
6. Stock up on all the vit C-rich fruits and vegetables.
7. Have a steak or other beef meal a few times a week to boost your iron levels. Add vit C-rich foods to these meals too.
8. Check food labels when shopping for high iron content.
9. Keep snacks rich in this mineral with you at all times e.g. almonds and apricots. Munch on them all day!
10. Get plenty of rest and let family and colleagues know that you're anemic and need to take it easy!
Do I really need supplements (ferrous sulphate or ferrous gluconate)? How can I avoid having to take medication. If I really need supplements how can I avoid constipation and other side effects when taking them? These are all the questions you'll be asking if your Health Care Provider prescribes tablets for you!!
There are many different supplements and medications. Some are gentler on the stomach than others. Some are enteric coated or slow release. Ask your Health Care Provider for the one that suits you best.
It's not a problem to change this type of medication part-way through a course of tablets. Rather than just not taking the pills, see your doctor and get them changed as soon as possible.
You'll feel so much better once you get your Haemoglobin levels back up to normal.
Remember that 'normal' levels for healthy pregnancy are lower than for when you aren't pregnant. In many countries around the world, you're Hb needs to be less than 10.5gms/dl before a prescription is necessary.
How soon you feel any symptoms of anemia will depend partly on what your normal or pre-pregnant Hb levels were. Some people are happy and well with a level of 15 while others can get away with having a level of 11 and feel perfectly fine! The normal pre-pregnancy range is between 12-15g/dl for women.
A healthy pregnancy diet contains a balance of pulses, vegetables, fruits, grains and protein.