Nutrition Tips for Anemia in Pregnancy

Health & Wellness on 07.15.11
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With my first pregnancy, I was diagnosed with iron-deficient anemia around 25 weeks gestation. Now that I am pregnant with my second child, I am diligently trying to avoid anemia with iron-rich foods and supplements. Here's how.

Many women become anemic with pregnancy due to a 50% increase in blood volume. During pregnancy, your body needs significantly more iron to make enough hemoglobin for you and your baby. Iron needs go up from 8 mg/day to 27mg/day when pregnant. Anemia can make you feel tired and weak, have shortness of breath, or have trouble concentrating which, during pregnancy, is not ideal. Like you weren't feeling tired and weak enough already, right?

Most health care providers diagnose pregnant women with anemia if their hemoglobin levels drop below 12g/dL. At this point your doctor may suggest an increase in iron-rich foods or may prescribe a supplement. If hemoglobin stores are severely low, a blood transfusion may be necessary. If hemoglobin stores do not increase sufficiently by the end of the pregnancy there may be risk of low birth rate or a stillborn, and it may case excessive blood loss for mom during birth. Anemia has also been linked to post partum depression.

Tips for Increasing Iron With Diet and Supplements

Iron-Rich Foods

There are many foods that are high in iron and folate. I am a big fan of healing the body with whole foods. Consuming these foods regularly will help to increase your body's iron stores, allowing your body to make more hemoglobin:

  • Meats: beef, pork, poultry, and lamb. 
  • Fortified cereals, breads, and oatmeal
  • Beans: soybeans, kidney beans, black beans, lentils, etc.
  • Dark Leafy greens: kale, spinach, chard, collards
  • Tofu
  • Dried fruit: figs, raisins, apricots
  • Enriched pastas and grains
  • Other veggies include: broccoli, beets, baked potato with the skin, and brussel sprouts

Iron in Supplements

Most prenatal supplements do contain a fair amount of iron. However, you may want to consider taking extra iron supplements if you have been anemic before, had severe morning sickness with vomiting, had very close pregnancies, or are carrying multiples.

Iron supplements can often be constipating. I know first hand that this side-effect is even less desirable when pregnant, but the less said about that, the better. If you are diagnosed with iron-deficient anemia, discuss which supplement is right for you with your health care provider. However, I recommend a chelated iron supplement.  This form of iron is well absorbed and not constipating. I also really like the brand Floradix Formula.  This is a food and herb based liquid formula that is very gentle.

Nettles are also very high in iron and safe for pregnancy. Nettle and red raspberry tea was a favorite tonic of mine during my first pregnancy.  If you have access to the prickly plant you can always use it like a green and cook it in soups, pastas, or make pesto.

Helpful Iron-Increasing Tips

  • When eating these iron-rich foods, make sure to also eat foods high in Vitamin C as well. Vitamin C helps the body absorb more iron. For example, try a dinner of grilled chicken, steamed broccoli, and brown rice. Broccoli is high in Vitamin C and your iron will come from the chicken. Or a breakfast of iron-fortified toast with orange juice.
  • Try to avoid foods high in Calcium when consuming iron-rich foods or supplements. Calcium can decrease the absorpsion of iron in the body.
  • Use a cast-iron skillet when cooking. Some of the iron in the skillet will transfer to your food.
  • Avoid drinking coffee or tea (even decaf) with meals.  The tannis decrease the absorption of iron.

Being pregnant is hard work. There is so much information that we pregnant mamas need to know, especially surrounding appropriate foods to eat. Couple that with the physical and emotional impact pregnancy has on us, and just thinking about it makes me want to take a nap.  However, after feeling the not so happy effects of anemia during my first pregnancy, I am more than ready to take preventative measures to avoid anemia this time around.  By simply increasing the tasty iron-rich foods into my daily meals and taking a supplement regularly, I hope to keep my hemogloblin stores up in this pregnancy. And hopefully my energy levels too.

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