Iron during pregnancy is a hot topic since many women become anemic, regardless of their diet. However, it’s especially important as a vegetarian or vegan to be aware of what you eat to ensure your iron stores are maintained.
What are iron stores and how do I maintain them?
Great question! I will delve into this further down in this article and I will elaborate on what kinds of iron-rich foods you can eat to boost your iron.
Iron during pregnancy
If you’re reading this because you’re pregnant, congratulations! What an exciting time this is for you!
Let’s explore the importance of iron during pregnancy.
Iron is used to make blood. Since you’re growing a baby inside of you, the baby also needs blood. Where does this blood come from?
Your iron is not only making blood for yourself now, it’s also making blood for your baby. Therefore, you need double the amount of iron that you would normally need when not pregnant! According to Mayo Clinic, you need 27 mg of iron a day when pregnant.
That’s a lot of iron!
Now you can start to understand why even if you eat iron-rich foods, you may still be anemic since you need tons of iron.
What happens if I have low iron during pregnancy?
You may start out your pregnancy with enough iron in your body as I did. Before I was pregnant, although I was vegan, I had a healthy level of iron.
However, once I became pregnant, after the first trimester, my blood test results showed my iron levels were declining.
Your body has its own iron stores which contain extra iron. When you don’t get enough iron from your diet, your body starts to dip into these stores.
After these iron stores start to diminish, you have what’s known as iron deficiency.
Once these iron stores are empty, your body can’t make enough blood and this causes anemia.
There are several issues that can happen if you have low iron while you’re pregnant:
- Pre-term baby
- Low birth weight for baby
- Harder time recovering from delivery
- Baby may not grow to a healthy weight after birth
No one wants any of these to happen to them or their baby so this leads to the next question – how can I prevent anemia?
How to prevent anemia during pregnancy
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There are a few key ways to increase iron during pregnancy and avoid anemia.
- Take a prenatal which includes iron. Each prenatal has a different amount of iron. If you know you’re prone to iron deficiency, such as if you’re vegan or have a hard time absorbing iron, be sure to find a prenatal which has a higher iron content. Here are some of the best vegan prenatal supplements for pregnancy:
- Go with an iron supplement in addition to your prenatal. This is a great way to ensure you get enough iron since even if the prenatal doesn’t have it all, you’re still supplementing with exactly what you need.
- Eat iron-rich foods throughout your pregnancy.
Iron-rich foods for pregnancy
As a vegan, it may seem difficult to find iron-rich foods. Everyone always talks about meat as being the main source of iron. However, this isn’t the only source.
According to WebMD, these are vegan iron-rich foods you can eat while pregnant, sorted by highest iron content first:
- Tofu – 13.2 mg iron per cup
- Lentils – 6.6 mg iron per cup
- Spinach – 6.4 mg iron per cooked cup
- Kidney beans – 5.2 mg iron per cup
- Tempeh – 4.5 mg iron per cup
- Soybeans – 4.5 mg iron per cup
- Lima beans – 4.5 mg iron per cup
- Swiss chard – 4 mg iron per cooked cup
As you can see, tofu has quite a bit of iron per cup. Not only that, but it’s also rich in protein, calcium, and other vital nutrients.
Tofu is such a versatile food, you can use it so much in the kitchen! So enjoy it while you’re pregnant since it will give you an extra boost of much-needed iron.
My story as a vegan with low iron during pregnancy
I want to share my story with you so that you can gain better insights into how to manage your iron intake while pregnant.
I had blood tests done every couple of months while I was pregnant. At first, my iron levels were normal. After a few months though, my iron levels started to decrease.
My doctor wasn’t on top of this at all. He didn’t offer me any advice or a solution for increasing my iron intake. Only when I asked him about it, he suggested I take an iron supplement.
I had a hard time taking pills while I was pregnant so I had to find an alternative. I bought iron powdered supplements which didn’t taste all that great but I took it every morning when I made myself hot cocoa.
Little did I know one valuable piece of information when taking my iron…
When I had my next blood test done, it showed my iron levels were even lower. How can this be if I was taking iron supplements on a daily basis?
One day, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I chanced upon a post from someone in the same boat as me – vegan, pregnant, low in iron.
I read the comments and guess what one of them said?
Do not take iron with calcium!
The hot cocoa that I drank every morning had soy milk in it which is high in calcium. I took my iron supplement every day with my hot cocoa.
I searched online for more information about this and everywhere I read, it clearly stated that calcium prevents iron absorption in your body.
So, in reality, all that time I was taking iron, it was pointless. It wasn’t being absorbed in my body at all!
At my next appointment, I told my doctor that I had no idea I shouldn’t be taking iron with calcium. He was surprised that I didn’t know. Guess what? I was surprised that he didn’t tell me!
He’s the doctor, it’s his job to inform his patients of all the necessary information when taking prescriptions.
I went home from that appointment frustrated and upset. I searched for a new doctor to continue with since he was obviously not right for me.
While I researched how to take iron, I read another important point. Iron is best absorbed when taken with vitamin C.
This began my morning smoothie experience. I prepared an iron-packed smoothie for myself every morning, which included:
- Orange juice (rich in vitamin C)
- My iron powdered supplement
It wasn’t as tasty as a coffee oatmeal shake but it was good enough to boost my iron. Or so I thought.
At my next blood test, my iron levels, unfortunately, did not improve. This was when I was about 8 months pregnant. As I mentioned above, being iron deficient during pregnancy can have negative effects on the baby.
My new doctor didn’t offer me any solutions. Luckily, I had a doula who actually suggested to me that I get an iron infusion.
I got an iron infusion a week before I gave birth. It helped boost my iron levels and that definitely saved me. I lost a lot of blood when I gave birth and if not for that infusion, who knows how it would’ve ended!
Key takeaways from my experience
I’m not sharing my story just to tell the world about my experiences and to journal away here. The reason I’m sharing this is to help you!
I don’t want you to go through the same ordeal I did.
Here’s a summary of the most important takeaways from my experience in regard to iron during pregnancy:
- It’s best to supplement from the beginning of your pregnancy with 27 mg of iron daily.
- Do not take iron with calcium!
- Take iron with vitamin C.
- Trust yourself and if you feel like your doctor isn’t providing you with the right help, find a new one. I went through 4 doctors throughout my pregnancy. It was tough finding a good one.
- If your iron levels are really low and you’re anemic, get an iron infusion at least a month before you give birth. You want to be as healthy and strong as possible when going into labor.
To wrap up
Many women have a hard time getting enough iron during pregnancy, regardless if they’re vegan or not.
Take your iron supplement, eat iron-rich foods, and keep a close watch on those blood test results! This should help your iron levels stay at a healthy place.
Are your iron levels low? Do you have a hard time finding tasty, iron-rich foods? Let me know in the comments!
Here’s a follow-up article about iron for babies.
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