It is commonly known that whilst pregnant you must take a Folate and Iodine supplement, to ensure your body has adequate levels for you and your unborn baby. Many doctors will also suggest taking a pregnancy multivitamin to assist with covering all vitamins and minerals. This is one thing that made me feel better (mentally) – particularly in the first trimester when my diet was limited. Due to morning sickness, my food preferences and food aversions resulted in a limited intake in regards to variety. So my multivitamin was an important part of what I consumed each day!!

This pregnancy, as with my last pregnancy – one of my lasting food aversions has been steak! I will happily have red meat in other dishes, but the thought of eating a steak (well let’s say, I can see how vegetarians feel!!). Given that I have still be consuming red meat at least 3 nights/week (given my husband’s love for meat!) – I was very surprised when my obstetrician called me to tell me my Iron was low, and I needed to take a supplement.

Iron in the body

Iron is vital in the body, as it carries oxygen around the body. In the body it is referred to as haemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells.

During pregnancy your body needs to make more blood due to the growth of your body to accommodate the baby, and the baby. To make the increased blood volume, your body needs more iron consumed.

If you’re found to be low in iron, some symptoms include tiredness, poor concentration and an increased risk of infection. If your levels rich very low, this can impact on your baby’s growth – hence we want to avoid this.

Iron in food

Iron is found in food in two forms; iron from animals = haem iron, and iron from plant foods = non-haem iron. Haem iron is absorbed by the body ~ 10 times more than non-haem iron.

Red meat is very high in haem iron, the redder the meat – the higher the iron content! Beef and lamb are higher in iron than pork, chicken and fish. Coloured flesh fish is higher in iron than, such as tuna us higher than fish such as barramundi.

Your body absorbs maximum amounts of iron from food in the presence of Vitamin C. You will often be recommended by a dietitian or doctor to have your red meat with a glass of orange juice – to optimise the absorption of the iron!!

In contrast, tea, coffee, unprocessed bran, and various mineral and herbal medications have been found to block the absorption of iron by the body.

Iron supplements

An iron supplement should only be taken if a blood test has confirmed you are low in iron. If this is the case it is worth discussing with your doctor the type of iron supplement you require (this can be confusing!)

An unfortunate side effect of iron supplements, is that they can cause constipation. Which for pregnant ladies is often an issue before taking an iron supplement. It is important to ensure you drink adequate water, and consume a high fibre diet, and undertake regular exercise to try and manage any concerns with constipation.

However when ladies are pregnant, you can tick all the required boxes to manage constipation – and still have problems managing it. Hence if you are required to take an iron supplement (and suffer constipation), it is worth considering a liquid version. Compound pharmacies often have a liquid iron supplement available, this is one great option as it won’t cause constipation. I recently became aware of the widely available (but expensive) liquid iron supplement called Spatone. If you choose to take a liquid iron supplement, please discuss the quantity with your doctor to ensure you take adequate amounts (you will usually require more than a standard dose, due to the increased needs during pregnancy).

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