Iron is an essential element in the development of healthy babies! Iron is present in all the cells in the body and is particularly needed for the development of blood and muscles. The World Health Organization recognizes that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency world-wide. It is estimated that in developing countries 50% of pregnant women are iron deficient, while in developed nations 15-20% of women are iron deficient in pregnancy.
Iron is a mineral found in many common foods. Animal sources ("heme iron") include meat, fish, and poultry. Plant sources ("non-heme iron") include dried beans, peas, lentils and some fruits and vegetables. Grain products such as flour, pasta and breakfast cereals are fortified with iron in Canada. Heme iron is more easy absorbed than non-heme iron.
Iron is needed right from the start of pregnancy as the pregnant mother's blood volume increases and as the placenta and fetus forms. The CDC recommends starting iron supplementation at the first prenatal visit. In the second and third trimester, in particular, the placenta accumulates iron to release to the fetus later. Between 28-38 weeks of pregnancy the fetus grows from 1kg to 3.4kg.
The average intake by women in Canada is 12mg per day. Women require on average 27mg of iron per day throughout pregnancy. When you are pregnant you should chose iron rich foods, and also supplement your intake. Most prenatal vitamins contain 20-30mg of iron per tablet.
Certain foods (such as calcium containing foods) will inhibit the absorption of iron.
For information about iron containing foods go to the Health Link BC website: http://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile68d.stm
In the first trimester and again at 26-28 weeks lab tests including a hemoglobin will be drawn. If this is low it can indicate iron deficiency, at which point your care provider may suggest further testing of body iron stores (a ferritin test.) Your care provider will suggest further iron supplementation if you are found to be iron deficient.
Iron supplements are usually oral tablets which are taken once to 3 times daily depending on degree of iron deficiency.
Occasionally the degree of iron deficiency will be sufficient that intravenous iron will be recommended. This is ordered by the physician and administered in the hospital in the Medical Daycare.