Iron is incredibly important for physiological functions such as metabolism, growth, immunity and hemoglobin makeup.
Because iron is so important in the transfer of oxygen and in total blood composition, deficiency could cause a number of side effects such as anemia (which if not taken care of could be fatal).
This means iron is extra important while pregnant---due to higher blood volumes and the growth of your baby!
So what are the recommendations?
Pregnant mothers are recommended to consume 27 mg/day as opposed to 18 mg/day needed when not pregnant. It is important to note for adult females, 40mg/day is the upper limit for iron and passed this point could potentially cause toxicity.
All women should be screened for anemia and iron levels when they find out they are pregnant or before (if possible).
How will my baby get the iron they need?
New born babies have stores of iron from the mom in the womb that should last approximately 4-6 months. Current recommendations tell mothers to introduce fortified cereals at 6 months which should then make up for the depleted maternal womb stores.
Breast milk does indeed have iron however only trace amounts. Breastmilk does not carry high amounts of iron because the baby's under-developed microbiome cannot handle excessive amounts of unabsorbed iron. Unfortunately, the excess iron can feed possibly harmful bacteria in the baby.
Because breastmilk does not have high amounts of iron and iron stores from the womb will eventually deplete, iron supplementation may be considered after 4 months.
Specific infant requirements?
During birth through the first six months, your baby needs .27mg/day of iron in their diet. Then they will need 11mg/day from 7 through 12 months of age, which will then decrease for the next 2 years of their life to 7mg/d.
Foods that contain iron for Mama and baby (of gestational age):
Animal products: specifically meats such as poultry, beef, and pork. All animals need/store iron similarly to how humans do and therefore are a good source of iron.
Fortified cereals: Most cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals that are important for a balanced and healthful diet. Fortified cereals may indeed supplement your iron needs.
Some beans/legumes as well as other vegetables contain traces of iron. These can also positively contribute to your overall iron intake.
Heme vs non-heme iron:
Heme iron sources are defined as those from animals and non-heme from plants. The non-heme iron sources are not as bioavailable to humans as the heme iron sources. For this reason, non-heme (not animal) iron sources require more to meet individual iron needs.
Consuming vitamin C with any source of iron can help to increase its absorption!
Consuming large amounts of calcium (such as dairy) at the same time as iron may create competition for absorption since they use the same physiological pathways. This is typically a problem when sources are from supplemental sources rather than food.
A balanced diet can be tricky when trying to meet all of your nutrient needs---especially while pregnant. Mamas Maternal Health is here to help you sort through the overwhelming amounts of nutritionally related information in the media. Via current scientifically based nutrition and breastfeeding recommendations, we can help you meet your maternal nutrition and breastfeeding goals throughout pregnancy! Check out our website to find out how!
Until next time!
Mikayla and Cassie
Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors
Reference: Zelman, Kathleen., (2019) Food and Nutrition., Iron
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