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Pregnancy (and breastfeeding) result in increased iron demands. 15%-25% of all pregnant women in the United States experience iron deficiency.

What does it mean to be iron deficient in pregnancy? Iron is a mineral that everyone needs, especially when growing a baby. It is an essential component of hemoglobin, the protein in your red blood cells that transports oxygen around your body. A lack of adequate amounts of oxygen circulating to your tissues can lead to a range of uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating symptoms.

During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume almost doubles. This means that iron needs greatly increase. If iron needs are not met, the following symptoms may present: fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, headache, feeling cold, restless legs, rapid heart rate, dizziness, and even fainting.

Iron deficiency can be prevented with appropriate iron supplementation and a diet that includes iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, beans, leafy greens, and fortified cereals. The recommended daily intake of supplemental iron is 27 mg per day. Prenatal vitamins do not always supply enough iron, so be sure to read the nutrition facts. To optimize iron absorption, it is best to take iron supplements on an empty stomach with orange juice.

Iron deficiency can be treated with iron supplementation and/or IV (intravenous) iron infusion. However, once iron deficient, it is a slow process to correct via supplementation, even at the recommended higher doses of 40-65 mg per day. It is also important to note that iron supplementation can sometimes cause upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea and constipation. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. IV iron infusion is often used when mothers are in the second and third trimesters because it is a fast way to increase iron levels. This option usually requires a lab draw and a referral from your Midwife or OBGYN. In addition to a CBC (complete blood count), Ferritin is a helpful lab to request. Ferritin is a measure of stored iron.

If you are pregnant and experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, you might have an iron deficiency. Please reach out to your healthcare team with any concerns or questions.