Iron, and How It can Help Pregnant Women
They say that it is important for pregnant women to get a healthy dose of iron during the course of their pregnancy. You may have followed the advice yourself during your last pregnancy, carefully including iron in your daily consumption. Have you ever wondered, though, why this element is very essential during pregnancy, and how much is enough for pregnant women?
First off, iron is used by your body to manufacture hemoglobin, i. e. that stuff that keeps your red blood cells red and transports oxygen all throughout your system. As women undergo pregnancy, you and your baby share with the oxygen in your blood; the requirements for iron simply go up and your circulatory system can’t keep up while you are bearing a child.
As such, pregnant women make up for it by increasing their iron intake – specifically 27 mg more than when they were not with a child. Most women, according to Melissa Goist, M. D., of The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, most women have adequate, albeit a bit stretched, stores of iron. They only need to take a prenatal vitamin and eat a normal diet, and may not need to take extra iron in the form of supplements.
Somewhere around 15 to 25% of women in the United States, however, develop anemia, a form of iron deficiency, during pregnancy. This can be scary when it is severe, as it can cause premature birth, infants with low birth-weight, and at worst, the mother’s death. Fortunately, one can easily catch the deficiency early on during pregnancy, even before it becomes a significant threat, and make up for it with the help of their doctors. According to Dr. Goist, iron deficiency will simply make you feel lousy, leading to dizziness, fatigue, and light-headedness.
Doctors identify this deficiency by checking the levels of iron in the woman’s blood as they draw laboratory tests during the pregnancy’s first trimester and again at a later time. Should the expecting mother be diagnosed as anemic, doctors will usually recommend taking iron supplements in combination with a diet containing red meat like the iron-rich pork and leafy greens. If Rebecca Blake, R.D. of Clinical Nutrition at New York City’s Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, this is an ideal way of raising your iron levels and combating the potentially-fatal anemia.
There is also no need to be worried about whether or not your iron intake is adequate, or if you are getting a little more than what you needed. Often, your doctor can easily tell how much you need based on lab results, so you best to trust their judgment and recommendations regarding your iron intake.
People often worry about the effects of getting too much iron in their system. You may have heard that this can cause constipation; this is a fact and no mere rumor, and this could happen even if you’re merely making up for the inadequacy of iron caused by your pregnancy. It can also cause you to get backed up, which can prove very annoying when combined with the random bouts of constipation. Iron supplements, fortunately, often contain stool softeners like Colace that will help prevent problems with constipation from occurring.
Now this begs the question: Just how much iron should you add to your diet? While you shouldn’t worry about this, increasing the iron in your daily consumption can make a significant difference. We should also note that there are two types of iron, namely heme and non-heme. The former can be found in red meat, fish, and poultry, while the latter is mostly available in beans, dried fruits, eggs, vegetables, whole grains, and products artificially fortified with iron. The human body is designed to absorb heme best, so pregnant women should focus on foods that contain it. Dr. Blake recommends two servings of red meat per week during pregnancy for that matter.
Of note as well is that what you consume alongside iron sources can affect just how well your body can take in the element. The best foods or consumables to take with iron supplements or iron-rich foods are those that are rich acids like ascorbic acid or Vitamin C. These acids can boost the absorption of iron. Meanwhile, foods rich in calcium produces the opposite effect, reducing your body’s ability to absorb the crucial mineral.
Iron deficiencies during pregnancy tend to go away after you have given birth to your child. Dr. Goist estimates that it will take about six weeks for a pregnant woman’s iron levels to go back to normal. In cases where the deficiency persists post-birth, however, you will need to maintain your increased iron intake, or even increase it further. This is important as you will need your body in top shape to take care of your newborn angel.