In many ways, a pregnant woman’s daily dietary requirements are much the same as anyone else’s.
But there are exceptions and iron is an important one. Pregnant women need almost two times more iron than anyone who is not pregnant — up from about 18 to 27 milligrams a day. Over the course of your pregnancy you will produce an extra litre of blood. The extra iron produces red blood cells for the mother, the baby’s blood cells and the placenta.
A pregnant woman can only get enough iron by significantly changing the way she eats to include more iron-rich foods — and taking an iron supplement.
Watch this video (3:20) for tips on how to adequately increase your iron intake in pregnancy.
How to increase your iron intake in pregnancy:
1. Take a prenatal vitamin
As many as half of all pregnant women do not get enough iron in their diet.
That’s why doctors recommend you start taking a daily prenatal vitamin, which contains about 16 to 20 milligrams of iron as soon as possible — and continue taking it throughout your pregnancy.
2. Eat meat (if you’re not vegetarian):
Meat sources such as beef, chicken, pork and fish all contain heme iron.
It is an especially well-absorbed form of iron.
3. Eat iron-rich meat alternatives:
Lentils and beans and other grains with added iron, are other good alternatives of non-heme iron, which is not as well absorbed.
So if you follow more of a vegetarian diet, it is important to eat these foods together with other foods rich in Vitamin C, for example, an orange.
At lunch and dinner, try to fill a quarter of your plate with one of these rich iron sources.
4. Eat an iron-rich breakfast:
Try to add spinach to hot breakfasts or eat cereals with added iron.
Breakfast meal suggestions include:
- Egg and spinach with a bowl of berries and toast
- A hot oatmeal with added iron
5. Include iron-rich foods at lunch and dinner:
Try to fill a quarter of your plate with a rich iron source at lunch and dinner, for example, a piece of salmon or lentils.
To find out more about eating a healthy, balanced plate, watch this PCN video: Pregnancy and nutrition: 6 tips for eating a healthy lunch and dinner in pregnancy.
6. Consciously eat iron-rich snacks:
Good iron-rich snacks include:
- Hummus and vegetables
- Hummus and crackers
Why increase your iron levels?
A lack of iron in your diet can leave you feeling fatigued, lower your resistance to infection and lead to cardiovascular stress. There are also more serious complications. As your pregnancy progresses, your doctor with check your iron stores and your blood count (at around 26 weeks) to see if you have iron-deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia is a serious condition that can cause your baby to be born early or too small.
If that happens, your doctor may also recommend an iron supplement to correct your anemia.
But it’s best to adapt your eating habits early to include a high number of iron-rich food sources, so you can give yourself and your baby the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Calgary Foothills PCN health professionals — a dietitian, a family doctor and a registered nurse from our maternity clinic — have compiled other pregnancy and nutrition videos to help you eat well and stay healthy during pregnancy.
Try these videos and blogs:
- 6 tips for eating a healthy lunch and dinner in pregnancy: video and blog
- 5 tips to a healthy pregnancy weight and food cravings: video and blog
- How to get enough calcium in pregnancy, and food safety: video and blog
- Tips on how much to eat in each trimester of your pregnancy: video and blog
The Riley Park Maternity Clinic offers care to low-risk patients based in Calgary and Cochrane during pregnancy. The family doctors at the clinic specialize in obstetrics. Patients deliver at the Foothills Medical Centre. Find out more.
To see more pregnancy-related resources, search “pregnancy” in our Resources section.