As you read pregnancy books and browse websites, you may have read that it’s important to get enough iron in your diet when you’re pregnant. But why do you need iron during pregnancy, and how much?
As your body expands during pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body also increases. In order to make more red blood cells, your body needs extra iron to make hemoglobin (the piece of the red blood cell that holds oxygen). And, your baby is going to be taking all the iron they need from you, regardless of how much you have. In the last few months of your pregnancy, your baby will be storing iron for his or her first six months of outside of the womb. Due to these changes, your body needs extra iron so that you don’t develop anemia during your pregnancy.
So how much iron do you need? Most healthcare professionals agree that a pregnant woman needs about 27 milligrams (mg) of iron per day. Be sure to check with your doctor to get their recommendation. Then, make it your goal to get that amount as an average during a week.
One of the best ways that pregnant women can get iron is by eating red meat. If you’re a vegetarian, you can get your iron from beans, vegetables, and grains.
Here’s a list of a few foods with iron, and how much they contain:
3 ounces lean beef: 3.2 mg
3 ounces of turkey breast: 1.4 mg
3 ounces chicken breast: 1.1 mg
1 cup iron-fortified ready-to-eat cereal: 24 mg
1 cup fortified instant oatmeal: 10 mg
1 cup kidney beans: 5.2 mg
1 cup lima beans: 4.5 mg
1 ounce pumpkin seeds: 4.2 mg
1 cup black or pinto beans: 3.6 mg
1/2 cup spinach: 3.2 mg
1 cup prune juice: 3.0 mg
There’s no need to eat tons of meat to satisfy get the iron you need. By having just a little fish or meat with your meal, it will help your body to soak up more of the iron that's in the other foods on your plate.
Some tips on how you can get as much iron as possible from your foods:
- Use a cast-iron pan; it will help foods soak up iron.
- Don’t drink coffee or tea with your meal; they will get in the way of your body’s ability to absorb iron.
- Eat foods that have a lot of vitamin C with every meal. Examples of foods with vitamin C include orange juice, strawberries, and broccoli. Vitamin C can boost iron absorption up to six times.
- If you take calcium pills or antacids (like Tums), make sure not to take them with your meal. Calcium will cut down on your body’s ability to absorb iron (but you’re fine with eating or drinking dairy products with your meal).
Your healthcare practitioner will probably recommend that you take a prenatal vitamin with 30 mg of iron. This should be enough, unless you have (or get) anemia.
Many women find that iron supplements (or the iron in their prenatal pills) give them a stomachache or cause constipation. Make sure to talk to your practitioner about this; they may approve that you switch to a supplement with less iron. Or, they may suggest you find one that has a time-release formula. You might also try taking your supplement before bed, if it's making you queasy. If your supplement causes constipation, drinking prune juice can help (and is a good source of iron!)