iron in pregnancy

Iron in pregnancy

To supplement or not to supplement? That is the big question that plagues many pregnant women.

The importance of iron during pregnancy

More than any other nutrient, we know about how important iron in pregnancy is, but before we start buying iron supplements and dosing our way through the next nine months, is there an alternative and do we even need supplements to begin with?

Why is iron an issue during pregnancy?

The main reason that we hear so much about iron in pregnancy is that lack of iron can have an effect on the baby, which is something no one wants. Iron’s job in the body is to carry oxygen to all the different organs and tissues. During pregnancy, this includes your baby and placenta. A reduction in the amount of oxygen delivered to the placenta and baby can lead to a number of problems.

Women who are low in iron are more likely to have a premature baby and also to have babies who are a low birth weight. A smaller baby may sound like a great idea when it comes to labour, but smaller babies have a slightly increased risk of diseases like obesity and heart disease in later life. In saying that, the chances are small so there is no need to panic, but it is no harm to do all that we can to keep our children as healthy as possible.

Women who are low in iron in pregnancy are also more open to infections during and after pregnancy and are more prone to post-natal depression.

Another problem with being low in iron in pregnancy is that the baby can’t develop their own iron stores, which means they are low in iron themselves from birth. Lack of iron leaves adults tired, grumpy and irritable – not something you want for your newborn. Iron is also essential for brain development in babies and toddlers so, again, making sure you have enough iron in pregnancy is very important.

How can I get enough iron?

The most important time to start is before you get pregnant. If you are planning a baby, have a good look at what you are eating at the moment.

You need to aim for 14mg of iron everyday and 15mg per day once you are pregnant and this means you need to eat iron-rich foods everyday.

Start by keeping a food diary for a week and see how often you are eating foods rich in iron. This is also useful to do while you are pregnant to check your intake.

One of the most important things to remember is that very few foods have a lot of iron in them. You need to think about iron-rich foods at every meal, not just at dinner, if you are going to get enough. Lots of foods will have small amounts of iron so you will pick up a little in other foods but do try to include some of the foods below at every meal. You may not feel like eating much in the first three months of pregnancy, but your baby will be able to get iron from your body so don’t panic if nausea means you can’t face beef stew at this time! You do need to catch up later in the pregnancy so once your appetite comes back, make sure iron-rich foods are on the menu.

iron in pregnancy

Why are so many women low in iron during pregnancy?

The main reason a women is low in iron in pregnancy is if she has been low in iron generally beforehand. Many women don’t eat enough iron – studies in Ireland show that more than 50% of Irish women are not eating enough iron. If you are low in iron when you start your pregnancy, it can be difficult to catch up. Some women may lose iron due to bowel diseases like Crohn’s or colitis or someone who is coeliac may also struggle with iron. Not eating enough iron is generally the main cause.

What about supplements?

There was a time when every woman who was pregnant was given an iron supplement but studies now show that too much iron may also be a problem so supplements are not recommended unless you need them. So what do you do? The best thing is to get your iron checked before you become pregnant or within the first three months. If you are low in iron, talk to your GP as you may need a supplement. Or you can take good care of what you eat – iron from food is more easily absorbed than iron from supplements. If you do need an iron supplement, those with added vitamin C are a little easier on your tummy.

Iron-rich foods

Iron that comes from meat, poultry and fish is very easily absorbed by the body. This type of iron is called haem iron. The type of iron found in vegetables like chickpeas or broccoli is called non-haem iron. It is more difficult for your body to absorb this type of iron but eating a food rich in vitamin C will boost iron absorption from these foods. Some good iron-rich ideas are below:

  • Fortified breakfast cereal with a glass of orange juice
  • Bean salad with fresh tomatoes
  • Baked beans with baked potato
  • Roast chicken leg with carrots and broccoli
  • Red lentils added to vegetable soup
  • Tinned sardines on toast
  • Lamb shank with peas and carrots
  • Beans on toast (try this for an iron-rich breakfast)

More like this:

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The best foods for new mums
Eating for two


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….