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Eating Iron-Rich Foods During Pregnancy

written by: TheresaHalvorsen • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 5/4/2009

Millions of women suffer from anemia during pregnancy. Fortunately, increasing the intake of iron-rich foods during pregnancy reduces the risk for this condition.

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    Many women, particularly women carrying multiples, become anemic during their pregnancy. This is because pregnant women's blood volume increases (they have more blood) to help support the pregnancy. Since iron is needed for the production of hemoglobin (an oxygen carrying protein in red blood cells), if pregnant women don't have enough iron they can become anemic. You need about 30-60 mg of elemental iron during pregnancy a day.

    Anemia during pregnancy can lead to fatigue, weakness, breathlessness and fainting spells in the mother. There's some research that shows babies of anemic mothers are at a higher risk for prematurity.

    While it is possible to increase your iron intake with iron pills, iron pills can cause nausea and constipation. In addition, your body will absorb the iron better if it's from a food source. Luckily, you can fight off anemia with a couple of additions of iron-rich foods to your diet.

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    Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

    Dried fruits such as apricots are great sources of iron, and they're easy to snack on. Other good sources for pregnant women include spinach, pumpkin, collards, kale and turnip greens. Beans such as green peas, lentils and chick-peas are also good sources of iron.

    Fruits and vegetables have nonheme iron, which while good, is a little harder for the body absorb. It's very important that you take these iron-rich foods with iron helpers (see below) so your body absorbs the iron rather than flushing it away.

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    Eat More Meat

    It's bad news for vegetarians and vegans, but meat does contain a high amount of iron (heme iron) that's easily absorbed into the body.

    If you're getting your iron from meat sources, there are some things to keep in mind. Make sure you're cooking red meat to well done and microwaving any deli meat to steaming to prevent listeriosis (a bacteria that can affect the baby). Poultry needs to be cooked well and you should watch out for any contamination of raw poultry and other foods that you eat.

    If you're a vegetarian or vegan, speak to your care provider about ways to add iron to diet.

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    Increase Vitamin C (Helper) Intake

    It's not enough to just increase the amount of iron you eat; you also need vitamins that will help you absorb the iron. Vitamin C is a great "helper" in iron absorption. Try drinking a glass of orange juice as you eat foods high in iron. If you can't stomach that, add a side of brightly colored vegetables such tomatoes or peppers to your plate.

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    Watch out for These Foods

    Some foods actually decrease your absorption of iron and shouldn't be taken with iron-rich foods. Calcium and caffeine both decrease the absorption of iron. So foods such as teas, milks and coffees should be avoided while eating iron-rich foods. While you shouldn't cut milk out of your diet (pregnant women need the calcium), a better solution is to drink the milk between meals so your body has a chance to absorb the iron from your meals.

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    Sears, Willam MD, Sears, Martha RN. The Birth Book.Little Brown and Company, 1994.

    Simkin, Penny PT, Whalley, Janet RN, BSN, Keppler, Ann RN, MN. Pregnancy Childbirth and the Newborn. Meadowbrook Press, 2001.