During pregnancy, the heart works harder in order to provide adequate nourishment to the fetus. The body increases its blood volume by 30-50%. Due to this increase in blood volume, it is important for pregnant women to also increase their intake of folic acid and iron. This might lead you to ask the question of how to treat iron deficiency naturally during pregnancy.
Anemia is a condition in which the body lacks sufficient amounts of red blood cells, which are needed to carry oxygen through the body.
While there are several causes of anemia, iron deficiency is the most common.
When iron levels are low, the red blood cells are unable to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. Although it is normal to experience mild anemia during pregnancy due to increased blood volume, severe anemia may put you and your baby at risk of premature delivery and low birth weight.
Symptoms of anemia during pregnancy may include the following:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty concentrating
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
You may have a greater risk of developing anemia if you are carrying multiples, have two pregnancies close together, do not eat enough iron-rich foods, or if you had heavy periods prior to pregnancy.
How to Treat Iron Deficiency Naturally During Pregnancy
If you suspect that you may have an iron deficiency, it is important to see your doctor before trying to self-diagnose. Overdosing on iron supplements can be dangerous, potentially causing liver damage among other problems.
Your doctor will be able to determine if you have an iron deficiency and prescribe the correct dose of iron for you to take if necessary.
If your doctor does recommend taking an iron supplement, it is important to take iron at least two hours before or four hours after taking antacids as they can interfere with iron absorption.
Keep in mind that it may take several months to a year or more to restore your iron levels, although you may start feeling better after a week or so of supplementation. You may want to schedule a follow-up appointment to have your iron levels rechecked.
You may also try including more iron-rich foods in your diet. These include dark green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach), red meat, poultry, pork, beans, peas, dried fruit, and iron-fortified bread, cereal, and pasta.
Taking a vitamin C supplement or eating foods containing vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, melon, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, and bell peppers, may also aid in iron absorption.
Keep in mind that iron found in plants is not as readily absorbed as the iron found in meat. As such, when eating iron-rich plants, it is best to eat foods containing vitamin C at the same meal to aid in iron absorption. However, some individuals may not be able to easily absorb iron from food, so iron supplementation may still be recommended.
How to Treat Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy When Naturally Doesn’t Work
If supplementation does not improve iron levels, there may be another cause of the anemia, such as a disruption in iron absorption. In such cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat a peptic ulcer or other treatment depending on the cause. In severe cases, intravenous iron supplementation or a blood transfusion may be necessary.
If you think you may be at risk for anemia, talk with your doctor so you can be tested at your first prenatal visit.
Want to Know More?
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. American Society of Hematology. (n.d.). Anemia & pregnancy.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Iron and iron deficiency.
3. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 11). Heart conditions and pregnancy: Know the risks.
4. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, January 2). Iron deficiency anemia.
5. Merck Manuals. (2013). Iron deficiency anemia.
6. Merck Manuals. (2014). Physical changes during pregnancy.