Ensuring you have optimal iron levels during the preconception window (100 days before conceiving) is incredibly important for a healthy pregnancy.
The reason of this is due to the fact that among healthy human beings, pregnant women and rapidly growing infants are the most vulnerable to iron deficiency.
The role of iron in pregnancy
Your body uses iron to make haemoglobin, a protein found in our red blood cells, that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body – your brain, muscles, skin, liver, kidneys and everything else. During pregnancy, our need for iron doubles in order for us to be able make enough haemoglobin for both us and our baby. If you don’t have enough iron stores (known as ferritin on a blood test) before you fall pregnant or during pregnancy you have a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia.
The risks that can come with severe cases of anaemia during pregnancy are something that every mother will want to avoid. These can include:
increased risk of having a premature birth
increased risk of having a low birth weight baby
increased risk of postpartum depression
How do I know of I am at risk for iron deficiency in pregnancy?
Many women may only have a blood test once they fall pregnant, but if you are seeing a health practitioner to support you with preconception care then testing your iron levels should certainly be something that is assessed as early as possible.
Even before you are tested, however, there are a number of circumstances you should be aware of which can increase your risk of developing anaemia during pregnancy:
You have a heavy pre-pregnancy menstrual flow
You have a history of low iron or anaemia
You don’t consume a lot of iron rich foods
You have two closely spaced pregnancies
You are pregnant with more than one baby
How much iron do I need?
Elevated levels of haemoglobin during pregnancy have also been found to be associated with an increased risk of the same poor pregnancy outcomes as anaemia (more than likely because this is often associated with preeclampsia), and so a happy medium balance of iron is the ultimate goal.
If you are currently in the preconception period then the next time you see your GP, ask for a copy of your blood results and assess them with your complementary health care provider.
Haemoglobin levels should be above 120 g/L in non-pregnant women, below that indicates anaemia
Serum ferritin levels of 70-100μ/L indicate that no supplementation is necessary
Anything below 70μ/L will require supplementation.
Please see your healthcare provider to ensure you are supplementing with the right amount of iron if needed. Early assessment and a personalised supplementation using the minimum dose to adequately prevent iron deficiency is preferable.
How can I ensure I have optimal iron levels before pregnancy without iron supplementation?
Increase your concurrent intake of foods that will improve iron absorption - such as animal protein and vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables (e.g. steak and broccoli).
Decrease your concurrent intake of iron inhibitors – such as tea, coffee, red wine and calcium. Separate them from meals by 1 hour.
Ensure you also have an adequate intake of other nutrients required for the healthy production of blood cells – such as protein, vitamin B6,9&12, and zinc.
Studies show that the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum 299v can improve iron absorption by up to 50%.
For further advice on diet and supplementation for optimal iron levels and all aspects surrounding preconception, please contact one of our Naturopaths who would be more than happy to assist you.