Years ago, health care providers recommended anyone who was pregnant take an iron supplement. Now, as newer research comes out, it appears that it’s actually beneficial when women become slightly anemic in pregnancy.
I recommend that you get your health care provider to check your iron status through blood work and, depending on the results, take an iron supplement only if needed and recommended to do so.
Iron is a mineral that is very important for all of us. We need iron to help us grow and develop properly. Iron is what our bodies use to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin helps carry oxygen throughout our bodies and is found in red blood cells. When someone doesn’t have enough hemoglobin they can develop iron deficiency anemia.
Eating iron-rich foods helps maintain your iron status in pregnancy, and this is typically much gentler on the body.
Some examples of iron-rich foods include: dark green leafy vegetables, protein foods including meat, clams, oysters, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils, seaweed and kelp, blackstrap molasses, quinoa, green peas, potatoes (with the skin), oats and eggs.
There are two types of iron that you can find in food- heme and non-heme. Heme iron absorbs better in your body and is found in meat, seafood, poultry and fish. But non-heme iron is also beneficial. And the foods where it is found – beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, eggs and whole grains – have other essential nutrients.
Cooking in cast-iron is another great way to increase your iron intake.
In addition to eating iron-rich foods, eating sources of Vitamin C is helpful for increasing iron absorption. So eat iron-rich foods along with foods that are high in Vitamin C. Fruits and vegetables are a great source of Vitamin C. In fact, some of the best sources include bell peppers (any colour), broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, citrus fruit, and papaya to name a few.
Be aware that caffeine, oxalic acid (in things like spinach, rhubarb, tomatoes, chocolate) and calcium can stop iron absorbing into your body. So avoid having coffee or tea or glasses of milk with all of your meals. It’s also important to note that the iron in your prenatal multivitamin, which typically also contains calcium doesn’t have a great absorption. However, I do still recommend taking a prenatal multivitamin just to cover your base.
In addition to iron-rich foods, some pregnant women use herbs to increase their iron stores. Here are a few herbs often used this way.
Stinging Nettle- Urtica dioica
This is a great nourishing tonic. Nettle actually has more chlorophyll than any other herb, as well as calcium, phosphorous, potassium, iron, sulphur, and Vitamins A, C, D and K. It’s a great herb to nourish both mother and baby.
Stinging Nettle’s other benefits include:
• nourishing and strengthening the kidneys, which are vulnerable during pregnancy because blood volume increases and creates more work for the kidneys.
• helping with muscle spasms, including those in the uterus and leg cramps.
• easing pain during and after birth.
• preventing hemorrhages after birth and increasing hemoglobin.
• reducing hemorrhoids.
• tightening and strengthening blood vessels, thanks to its mildly astringent qualities.
• bolstering the hormonal system.
• increasing fertility in both men and women.
You can drink one cup of the tea twice a day. I recommend organic nettle to make the tea. Or you can take this herb as a tincture or capsules. Whatever your choice, it’s important to discuss what you are taking with your health care provider.
Note: Some moms take Red Raspberry leaf (see article here) until the baby is born, then switch to Stinging Nettle. Some take alternate weeks of Nettle and Raspberry. Others combine the two. You can choose what seems best for you, so listen to your instincts.
Yellow Dock Root- Rumex species
This is a great absorbable, non-constipating iron source. Yellow Dock is commonly used to help replenish hemoglobin after a hemorrhage, and can be used as a decoction, syrup or tincture.
To prevent anemia, use 25-40 drops of the tincture every day or one tablespoon of the decoction. If you use this when you have anemia, take 25-40 drops of the tincture three times a day or one tablespoon of the decoction three times a day. Be sure to discuss what you are taking with your health care provider.
Chlorella- the emerald alga
This has iron-building nutrients, including chlorophyll. Chlorella has protein as well as the B Vitamins, Vitamins C and E, and many minerals including iron and zinc. If using Chlorella follow the directions on the container. I recommend starting with a small amount and increasing to the level either recommended on the container or by your health care provider.
As you can see, we have touched on a few different ways to increase your iron stores in pregnancy. Overall, focusing on increasing foods high in iron and Vitamin C during pregnancy can be a very easy and healthy way to maintain your iron stores.
Are you interested in knowing how much iron you are getting from your foods? Contact Jill, Nurture The Future Nutrition’s Registered Dietitian and Chartered Herbalist for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org