Why Iron is Essential During Pregnancy–And How To Get More of It

If you’re pregnant, you know all about those giant pre-natal vitamins and that you need to make sure that you are getting all of the important nutrients that you need to help you grow a strong healthy baby. Fit For Birth by Suzy Clarkson provides tips for a realistic and balanced pregnancy, including information about some important nutrition aspects.



Brown rice is a plant-based source of iron. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

During pregnancy iron gives protection against anemia and helps the body manufacture all the extra red blood cells you and your baby need. Iron is vital in keeping your blood and immune system healthy.

Iron requirements at least double in pregnancy from the normal recommended dietary intake for women of 18 mg to 30-60 milligrams per day, but iron absorption by the body is a relatively difficult process. Estimates suggest that only about 10-20% of the iron consumed is actually absorbed, hence the need for dramatically increased levels of 100 milligrams or more per day to satisfy the necessary building of blood cells in the mother and fetus.

Iron requirement are even higher in the third trimester, when the baby starts to lay down its own important stores of iron.

It is hard to get the amount of iron you need from food alone, so most pregnant women take an iron supplement. An unfortunate side-effect is that iron supplements can often cause constipation. To help alleviate this, make sure you drink sufficient fluids, including orange juice to help iron absorption.

Prunes or kiwifruit may also provide some relief. Your doctor will also give you information on how to take iron tablets as they are generally better absorbed on an empty stomach.

Taking vitamin C at the same time, either in food or supplement form, can assist with iron uptake by the body, but this is the only vitamin you should be taking at the same time as your iron. Vitamins and minerals in a combination tablet can also hinder iron absorption.

Caffeine (contained in both in tea and coffee) and milk also hinders absorption, so avoid those around the time of taking your tablet. Your iron level should be monitored throughout your pregnancy by your LMC and this is usually checked a around 12 weeks and at 32-34 weeks.

Effects of having too much

In normal people, excess iron is not absorbed. In people who are genetically at risk, excess iron can cause haemochromatosis, with liver damage, cirrhosis, diabetes and abnormal skin pigmentation.

Food sources of dietary iron—two types

Iron from animal-sourced food is called haem iron. This is iron that comes from red meat, chicken or fish, and is easily absorbed and utilized by the body. A rule of thumb: the redder the meat, the higher the iron content. The best sources include:

  • Beef, kidney and liver (although limit liver intake to 100 grams per week, because of the high vitamin A levels, and ensure that it is well cooked, served hot and eaten immediately after cooking)
  • Veal
  • Lamb
  • Chicken or turkey
  • Fish and mussels (these must be fresh, cooked, hot and eaten immediately)

The second type of iron is from plant-sourced foods and is called ‘non-haem’ iron. Good sources of this type of iron include:

  • Whole grain breads and cereals (especially breakfast cereals with iron added)
  • Brewer’s yeast (sprinkled over food)
  • Brown rice
  • Vegetables (peas) and legumes (dried beans), leafy green vegetables, broccoli
  • Dried fruit, nuts (almonds, cashews) and seeds (pumpkin and sesame seeds)

As iron found in plant-sourced foods is not as easily absorbed as the iron found in animal foods, you need to include a food which is high in vitamin C at the same meal to assist in iron absorption. For example, include one of the following at meal times: fruit juice, potatoes, tomatoes, fresh or dried fruit.

Pregnant women who are vegetarian need to take special care with their diet to ensure they have adequate iron intake and more importantly iron absorption. Even if you have not previously been a meat-eater, you may find when you are pregnant this changes and you start to crave red meat. This is a good example of the body’s natural tendency to seek out that which it needs.

If this is not an option, seek advice from local medical professionals, or ask them to refer you to reputable information sources.



Many older women spend months, if not years, trying for motherhood, then endure an anxious pregnancy wondering if they are eating and exercising properly. Fitness expert Suzy Clarkson has been there. Her first pregnancy at the age of 38 was relatively trouble-free, but trying to get pregnant again a few years later was very different. Following fertility treatment, she finally gave birth to her second child at the age of 45.

Qualified in physiotherapy, Suzy has now devised a practical guide to assist older women through their pregnancies, using her own experiences of motherhood to support her text. This easy-to-follow fitness program will take you through each trimester, showing suitable exercises and suggesting how to develop healthy habits to achieve a safe outcome, a successful childbirth and a speedy recovery afterwards. The book is fully illustrated with step-by-step photographs showing the exercises in detail. The information she provides is based on the latest research, and is endorsed by leading specialists in obstetrics and fertility.

But the book is more than its exercises. Suzy is a ‘real mum’ who offers encouragement and a compassionate helping hand to all older mothers. Fit for Birth and Beyond is the guide you can trust and use with confidence.