Increasing Iron in Your Diet During Pregnancy

Your Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

Why do I need iron?

Iron is a mineral that makes up an important part of hemoglobin, the substance in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body.  Iron also carries oxygen in muscles, helping them function properly.  In addition, iron helps increase your resistance to stress and disease.

The body absorbs iron more efficiently during pregnancy.  Therefore it is important to consume more iron while you are pregnant to ensure that you and your baby are getting enough oxygen.  Iron will also help you avoid symptoms of tiredness, weakness and irritability and depression.

How much iron should I consume during pregnancy?

Following a balanced diet and including foods high in iron can help ensure that you are consuming enough iron throughout your pregnancy.  In addition, the following guidelines will help:

  • The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for iron is 30 milligrams (mg) per day for pregnant and lactating (breastfeeding) women.
  • Eating at least three servings of iron-rich foods a day will help ensure you are getting 30mg of iron in your daily diet.  Please refer to the chart on the next page for a list of iron-rich foods.  One of the best ways to get iron into your diet is to eat a highly fortified breakfast cereal, such as Total, which has 18mg of iron.  Note that iron intake is not equal to iron absorption.  Absorption of iron into the body is greatest with meat sources of iron.
  • The best sources of iron include enriched grain products; lean meat, poultry and fish; and leafy green vegetables.  Please refer to the chart on the next page for a list of iron sources.

Should I take an iron supplement?

Talk to your health care provider about an iron supplement.  The National Academy of Sciences recommends that all pregnant women following a balanced diet take an iron supplement providing 30 mg of iron during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.  Your doctor might increase this dose if you become anemic.  Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the size and number or red blood cells are reduced.  This condition might result from inadequate intake of iron or from blood loss.

Other facts about iron

  • Vitamin C helps your body use iron.  It is important to include sources of Vitamin C along with foods containing iron and iron supplements.  Foods high in Vitamin C include orange juice, grapefruit juice, green peppers, broccoli, melon, strawberries and cabbage.
  • Caffeine can inhibit the absorption of iron.  Try to consume iron supplements and foods high in iron at least one to three hours before or after drinking or eating foods containing caffeine.  In general, caffeine is found in coffee, tea, colas and chocolate products.  Caffeine-free colas and many medicines also contain caffeine.
  • Iron is lost in cooking some foods.  To retain iron, cook foods in a minimal amount of water and for the shortest period of time.  Also, cooking in cast iron pots can add up to 80 percent more irons to foods.
  • Constipation is a common side effect of taking iron supplements.  To help relieve constipation, slowly increase the fiber in your diet by including whole grain breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables.  Drinking at least eight cups of fluids daily and increasing moderate exercise (as recommended by your doctor) can also help you avoid constipation.

Meat and Seafood

Vegetables

Fruits

Breads and Cereals

  • Lean Beef
  • Chicken
  • Clams
  • Crab
  • Egg yolk
  • Fish
  • Lamb
  • Liver
  • Pork
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Turkey
  • Veal
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Collard and turnip greens
  • Lima beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Dry beans and peas
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans
  • All berries
  • Apricots
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Grapefruit
  • Oranges
  • Plums
  • Prune juice
  • Watermelon
  • Enriched rice and pasta
  • Soft pretzel
  • Whole grain and enriched fortified breads and cereals

 

Other foods:

  • Molasses
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Pine nuts
  • Pumpkin or squash seeds