Iron deficiency and anaemia during pregnancy

Published 14 November 2022 | Dr Ujwala Parashar

Iron is used by your body to make red blood cells, and your body makes more blood during pregnancy as you, and your baby are growing. This means your body needs more iron when your pregnant which supplies oxygen to your baby. Without enough iron stores during pregnancy, you can develop iron deficiency anaemia.

Each red blood cell has iron at its core, and during the last half of pregnancy, your body makes more red blood cells to supply enough iron to you and your baby. The normal iron requirement in pregnancy is 22-27 mg of iron per day.
Iron cannot be made by our bodies and must be absorbed from the foods we eat or by suitable iron supplements.

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency and anaemia during pregnancy?

Low iron levels during pregnancy can make you feel tired, have poor concentration, and increase your risk of infection. 

The commons signs of anaemia during pregnancy include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Pale skin or yellowish skin
  • A shortness of breath

Severe symptoms include: 

  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Poor concentration levels
  • Low blood pressure

What are the risk factors for developing iron deficiency and anaemia during pregnancy?

There are some known risk factors for developing iron deficiency and anaemia during pregnancy including:

  • Having two closely spaced pregnancies
  • Being pregnant with more than one baby (multiple birth)
  • Frequent vomiting from morning sickness
  • Poor diet that doesn’t include enough iron-rich foods
  • A heavy pre-pregnancy menstrual flow
  • A history of anaemia prior to pregnancy

How do you prevent developing iron deficiency and anaemia during pregnancy?

Our food choices are always important, but they play a significant role in a healthy pregnancy. Although iron occurs in many foods it is difficult to absorb making it harder for your body to get the levels needed during pregnancy. For this reason, Dr Parashar will prescribe iron supplements including a prenatal vitamin and, in some cases, an extra iron pill if you are displaying symptoms of anaemia.

Concentrate on adopting a pregnancy focused diet

Eating iron rich foods during pregnancy plays an important role in ensuring yours and your baby’s health. 

The best iron-rich foods are red meat, chicken and fish and should be included in at least two servings per day. Other good sources of iron include:

  • Legumes – including dried beans, lentils, baked, beans and chickpeas 
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Wholegrain breads
  • Dried fruit
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Iron rich drinks such as Milo and Ovaltine

The irons from these foods if not easily absorbed by the body, but absorbency can be boosted by including Vitamin C as part of the meal. Foods rich in Vitamin C include Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, capsicum, tomato, brussels sprouts, orange, berries, kiwifruit.

What are the implications of iron deficiency and anaemia during pregnancy?

There can be serious implications on yours and your baby’s health from iron deficiency during pregnancy which include:

  • Risk of premature birth
  • Low baby birth weight
  • Postpartum depression
  • Increased infant death immediately before or after birth

Dr Ujwala Parashar, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist

Sam Samant

Dr Ujwala Parashar is a highly trained female obstetrician and gynaecologist with over 15 years of professional experience and training, practicing in Sydney's North Shore and Barangaroo. If you would like more information on conception, or if you are seeking obstetric options and advice, please contact us or call 1300 811 827 to arrange a consultation with her.