When a pregnant woman reports to the hospital for the first antenatal clinic visit, one the medications prescribed for her is an iron supplement, which is meant to help her maintain the right level of blood.
Iron is a mineral that your body uses to make two proteins: haemoglobin and myoglobin. Haemoglobin helps your red blood cells move oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Myoglobin brings oxygen to your muscles. Iron is also important in making hormones, as well as tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissue.
What if you don’t get enough iron?
You might not notice anything at first because your body will use what it has stored in your muscles, bones, liver, and elsewhere. But when these supplies run out, your red blood cells get smaller and so carry less haemoglobin. That means less oxygen gets delivered throughout the rest of your body, which is one kind of anaemia.
What are the symptoms of anaemia?
You might feel tired, weak, or dizzy and have pale skin, a fast pulse, cold hands, headaches, and digestive problems. A weaker immune system could make you sick more often, and your body temperature could vary more than usual. It can even affect your ability to think clearly and remember things. Children who get anaemia from lack of iron sometimes develop learning problems.
What causes low iron?
It’s more likely if your diet isn’t great or if you don’t eat much meat, fish, or poultry. It also can happen if you lose blood due to injury or illness (like ulcers or colon cancer) or you have a condition that hampers digestion. Women get it more than men, especially once their monthly cycle starts or if they’re pregnant. And iron levels can go down as you get older and start to eat less.
How much do you need?
If you’re a man, you should get about 8 milligrams (mg) per day. If you’re a woman 19 to 50 years old, you need more than double that: about 18 mg per day. That jumps to 27 mg if you’re pregnant and drops to 10 mg if you’re breastfeeding. After age 50, women’s needs drop to the same as men: 8 mg per day.
What If you’re a vegetarian or vegan?
Your body doesn’t absorb iron from vegetables as easily as it does from animal protein like fish, chicken, and meat. That’s why vegetarians or vegans should almost double the daily iron amount that doctors recommend for meat eaters. That’s 14 mg for men, and 32 mg for women age 19-50. You can do it if you eat a varied diet and get plenty of vitamin C (in foods including oranges, red peppers, strawberries, and broccoli), which helps your body absorb the iron.
Which foods provide iron?
Oysters, beef liver, white beans, lentils, and spinach are some of the top natural food sources. Lean meat, seafood, and poultry are great animal sources and help your body absorb iron from other foods like beans, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables. Iron is also in many “fortified” grain products like bread and breakfast cereal. Check the label to see how much is in a serving.
Do you need iron supplements?
Women who’ve been through menopause and men probably don’t. Other people might, but most get enough iron from food. Too much iron can cause stomach cramps, constipation, nausea, diarrhea, and light-headedness. It also could make it harder for your body to absorb enough zinc. Overdoses of iron supplements, which can provide different amounts of iron, can cause life-threatening problems in children younger than six years. And most adults shouldn’t get more than 45 mg of iron per day, so it’s best to ask your doctor first before taking any iron supplements.
If you’re pregnant
You need more iron to keep up with the greater amount of blood that nurtures you and your growing baby. Without enough, your baby might be born too soon or with a low body weight. It could even cause problems with parts of your baby’s brain development. Your doctor will likely watch your levels and may prescribe a supplement if you need it or just to be safe.
Around 10 per cent of infants and toddlers don’t get enough iron. If your little one was born early or underweight, they may not have much in the tank. Even a full-term baby only has enough for a few months before it runs out. If not restocked, this early lack of iron could lead to behaviour and attention problems later. Talk to your doctor about how to track, and, if needed, supplement your child’s iron.