Iron in pregnancy

Iron makes red blood cells for both you and your baby. If you are anaemic or are expecting twins your doctor may prescribe you iron supplements in pregnancy.

You do not necessarily need iron supplements. Iron makes red blood cells for both you and your baby. Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body to your organs and tissues, as well as to your baby.

In pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases by almost 50% and some women find that they are short of red blood cells. This is called anaemia and will be picked up when you have your routine antenatal blood tests.

If you’re anaemic, you may lack energy and feel very tired. If you are expecting twins you're more likely to be low in iron.

If your blood tests show that you are anaemic, your doctor or midwife will prescribe an iron supplement. If they do not show this there is no need to take the supplement.

What foods have iron? 

Foods containing iron include:

  • red meat
  • oily fish
  •  eggs
  • pulses (peas, beans and lentils, for example)
  •  wholegrain or wholemeal breads
  • nuts
  • green leafy vegetables and dried fruit
  • some breakfast cereals have added iron.

Download our iron rich foods infographic as a PDF here.

Skip tea with meals

Drinking tea with meals can interfere with how your body absorbs iron. If your iron levels are low, have water or diluted fruit juice with food instead.

Your body can absorb iron more easily if you have food or drink containing vitamin C at the same time. Many fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamin C and this is another good reason to have them at every meal. Avoiding tea and coffee at meal times will also help your body absorb iron.

Find out more about supplements in pregnancy here.

More on important supplements in pregnancy

Sources

  1. Hollis BW et al. (2011). “Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy: Double-blind, randomized clinical trial of safety and effectiveness.” JBMR 2011;26:2341-2357
  2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care’, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62: http://publications.nice.org.uk/antenatal-care-cg62 [accessed 18 January 2015].
  3. Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J (2012) Mayes’ Midwifery, 14th edition, London, Ballière Tindall.
  4.  National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care’, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62: http://publications.nice.org.uk/antenatal-care-cg62 [accessed 18 January 2015].
  5. NHS Choices, Supplements in pregnancy, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/vitamins-minerals-supplements-pregnant.aspx [accessed 12/11/2014]
  6. Bestwick JP et al. (2014). “Prevention of neural tube defects: a cross sectional uptake of folic acid supplementation in nearly half a million women.” Plos One 2014; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089354
  7. British Dietetic Association (2013) ‘Food Fact Sheet: Vitamin D’, London, BDA: http://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/VitaminD [accessed 18 January 2015] 
  8. Weissmann-Brenner A, et al. (2014). “Maternal medical compromise during pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes.” The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and neonatal medicine 2014;doi: 10.3109/14767058.2014.947949
  9. Hoppe M, et al. (2013). “Heme iron-based dietary intervention for improvement of iron status in young women.” Nutrition 2013;29:89-95
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