Iron is particularly important for the formation of haemoglobin, which is the component of our blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. It is also very important for the production of energy, and the synthesis of DNA. Inadequate iron can lead to iron deficiency (ID) and iron deficiency anaemia (IDA). Pregnant women are considered a high-risk group for ID and IDA, as they are an ‘increased need group’, meaning a deficiency can occur more quickly if adequate levels of iron are not met. When the intake of iron is low, the body uses its stored iron. If this continues over a prolonged period, the bodies iron stores will gradually deplete, which is what causes IDA. It can take a long time for the body to replace stores once this happens. IDA during pregnancy is linked with pre-term birth, and low birth weight babies.
Testing for Iron and Supplementation
In Australia, we approach ID and IDA by testing iron levels throughout pregnancy, and advising of supplementation requirements. Some women will maintain good iron levels throughout their pregnancy, which is likely due to a combination of good iron stores leading up to the pregnancy, and a well balanced diet with adequate iron throughout the pregnancy. Routine supplementation is not a recommendation in Australia, as too much iron can result in toxicity. It is important that you don’t ‘self diagnose’ or begin supplementation without a Medical practitioner or midwife advising you first. We will test your iron levels at 26-28 weeks of pregnancy via a routine blood test. If you are found to be low, we will advise you of your individual supplementary requirements, as well as the best way to take your iron. We will test again at around 36 weeks to see if your levels have increased. If you have symptoms of low iron, such as fatigue and lethargy earlier than 26-28 weeks, an iron test can be performed to ascertain whether you are deficient.
Whilst taking iron supplements, it is important to increase your fluid intake, as they can cause constipation in some people. If this occurs, please let us know, and we will advise of an alternative. To optimise the effects of your iron intake, it is best to take supplements with a vitamin C containing drink, such as orange or apple juice, and to avoid taking them in close proximity to consumption of dairy products, as this can disrupt absorption.
Natural Sources of Iron
Many food sources contain iron. Iron found in food comes in two different ways: heam-iron contained in animal products, and non-haem iron, found in plant products. The body absorbs haem iron more easily than non-haem iron. Iron rich foods include meat, poultry and fish, as well as non-animal products such as legumes, leafy green vegetables, nuts, dried fruit and wholegrain cereals. Some examples of iron rich food:
Beef (75g): 2.1mg
Chicken (75g): 1.6mg
Lamb (75g): 2.1mg
Fish (120g): 1.6mg
Lentils/baked beans: (Â½ cup): 2.0mg
Wholegrain bread (2 slices): 1.9mg
Spinach (1/2cup): 3.2mg
Prunes (6 pcs): 1.5mg
Almonds (1/2 cup): 1.2mg
If you have any questions relating to the information contained in this newsletter, please do not hesitate to contact us.