If you struggle with anemia when pregnant (or any time), this post is a must-read! Check out these tips for boosting iron levels for a healthy pregnancy.
This post is part of the Pregnancy: A Natural Phenomenon series.
Guest Post by Anne of The Fitly Spoken Word
Anemia is relatively common in pregnancy; in fact, it’s very normal for a pregnant woman’s iron levels to decrease significantly during the course of her pregnancy. I experienced anemia in both my pregnancies: the first time it was a normal case that was resolved with a small liquid iron supplement and increased iron consumption. The second time, however, I struggled with anemia from 12 weeks on and it got to the point where I had to see a hematologist.
Symptoms of Anemia
Generally speaking, most doctors and midwives will check your iron levels at least twice during your pregnancy, but if your iron levels are low enough, you’ll know before they even draw your blood! Common symptoms of anemia include:
- shortness of breath
- racing heart
- difficulty concentrating
(Read more about anemia here.)
I experienced all those symptoms in full force throughout most of the second and third trimesters of my last pregnancy, and let me tell you: It was no fun! I was beginning to be afraid that I would not have the physical stamina necessary to make it through the childbirth process, and I was also more than a little frightened about the effect of the loss of blood during delivery.
Thankfully, I managed to get the anemia under control in the last few weeks of my pregnancy, and was even able to cancel my follow-up visit to the hematologist!
How to Increase Iron Levels
I’m not a doctor, so I highly recommend you speak with your OB or midwife if you have concerns about anemia, but here are a few things that worked for me to increase my iron levels.
1. Eat Iron-Rich Foods
The highest concentrations of iron are found in animal products, most notably beef. You would not believe how many hamburgers I consumed while I was pregnant! And I honestly could feel a difference in my body, at least for a day or two. In particular, liver is very rich in iron – if you can stomach it! If you, like me, are queasy about liver, you might want to try my friend Steph’s method of sneaking liver into ground beef. Other good animal sources for iron include egg yolks and chicken or turkey giblets. If you like seafood, try clams, oysters, or scallops.
For vegetarian sources of iron, try legumes and dark leafy greens. Some dried fruits (like prunes and raisins) also contain higher levels of iron, as do artichokes! Molasses, particularly black-strap molasses, is also an excellent source of iron, so consider using it as your preferred sweetener of choice during pregnancy.
2. Eat the Right Foods With Your Iron-Rich Foods
When you’re anemic, it’s not enough merely to eat iron-rich foods. In order for your body to properly absorb and use the iron, you need to be careful about what you’re eating with the iron-rich foods, or all that precious iron will go to waste.
First of all, avoid calcium supplements or calcium-rich foods (like milk) when ingesting iron-rich foods. The calcium will prohibit your body from absorbing and using the iron effectively. For the same reason, avoid coffee and tea until you have your anemia under control. (Further reading here.)
Secondly, do be sure to eat foods high in vitamin C. The vitamin C will aid your body in processing the iron and make it more effective. (Further reading here.)
3. Bake, Cook, and Fry with Cast Iron
Simply cooking with cast iron pans can increase your iron levels, sometimes significantly! Foods high in acid – think tomato sauce – will yield especially high levels of iron when cooked in cast iron.
Most people think of frying eggs or bacon in cast iron, but it is useful for so much more than that! I can honestly say that I use my three cast iron pans – a small frying pan, a large frying pan, and a pizza pan – more often than any other pot or pan in my kitchen. I highly recommend the Lodge brand of cast iron cookware, as it is American-made, excellent quality, and very affordable. You can also find old cast iron at flea markets or thrift stores and re-reason it so it’s good as new.
Try making this roast chicken in a cast iron skillet!
4. Consider Supplementation
Due to the different types of iron available as supplementation, and the fact that they are all measured differently, the world of iron supplements is confusing to say the least. I am not well versed in it well enough to feel comfortable walking you through the differences, but I will say that my research led me to believe that liquid iron is the best form of supplementation.
A pharmacist friend helped me figure out the appropriate dosage and I took it every day in a glass of orange juice to help with the absorption. I just used a generic brand, but many people recommended Floradix Liquid Iron to me. By the end of my pregnancy, I was taking a triple dose of liquid iron, and that’s what finally helped me keep on top of my iron supplies. Trilight Health also makes an herbal liquid iron called Tri-Iron.
5. Don’t Forget about Vitamin B12
Although low iron levels is the most common cause for anemia, a vitamin B12 deficiency can also be the culprit. When I went to the hematologist, one of the tests they ran was to check my levels of vitamin B12. In my case, the numbers were fine, but it’s definitely worth looking into if you just can’t seem to get ahead of your anemia. Vitamin B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods, so vegans will require supplementation. Seafood, beef, lamb, chicken, dairy products and eggs are all very rich in vitamin B12, so be sure you are eating plenty of those foods.
How do you maintain proper iron levels during pregnancy?
Anne is the wife to a wonderful, caring husband and mommy to two wildly-tender little boys. She loves all things Jesus, music, natural, nutritional and chocolate. And coffee. She loves coffee. She was born smack dab in the middle of 10 children and loves being able to stand out among the big crowd with her corner of the blogosphere, The Fitly Spoken Word.
**Note from Erin: Neither Anne nor myself are pregnancy or birthing experts. We simply write from personal experience and personal research. Please consult your trusted health professional before making any decisions regarding pregnancy or birthing.
Check out the other posts in this series!