All kinds of preparation and planning goes into having a baby, yet want-to-be moms often don’t consider one of the most important things to plan for, which is her health before she even gets pregnant and in particular the role that iron plays pre-pregnancy. This is the first article in my 3-part series, Iron & Pregnancy. Let’s get started!
The Risk of Iron Deficiency in Women of Childbearing Age
From the moment a woman gets her first period, her risk of iron deficiency increases. Along with her body’s need for more iron during growth spurts experienced in adolescence, she also needs more to supplement the iron lost with her period every month. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 1 in every 5 women of childbearing age is iron deficient. And the risk only increases in pregnancy with as many as 50% of pregnant women being iron deficient, according to Stats Canada. Many women don’t even realize that they are iron deficient until their first prenatal checkup.
The Importance of Iron
Once you become pregnant, your body needs almost double the iron to support your body’s growth and provide the baby with the iron it needs. During the final stage of pregnancy, the baby stores the iron it needs for the first six months of its life. Insufficient iron during this time can impede a baby’s growth and development and may lead to long-term learning disabilities and/or behavioral issues. Recent studies suggest that low iron levels in the weeks leading up to conception and throughout the first trimester have the biggest impact on the baby’s central nervous system.
These risks to the development of the baby are the reason why women are advised to take prenatal vitamins containing iron and eat well during pregnancy. The problem is that most women don’t actually begin to take these vitamins or increase their iron levels until the pregnancy has been confirmed.
There’s also the impact that low iron levels can have on the woman’s ability to get pregnant. One study by researchers from Harvard University published in the Obstetrics & Gynecology Journal in 2006 found a possible link between iron deficiency and infertility. Of the women studied, those taking iron supplements had a 40% lower risk of infertility issues from ovarian failure than those who weren’t taking iron.
Increasing Your Iron Pre-Pregnancy
Women considering pregnancy should ensure that their pre-pregnancy ferritin is greater than 70 (µg/L).
You can increase your iron levels before getting pregnant by eating more iron-rich foods, including:
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards)
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Lean meats and poultry
Speak to your doctor about prenatal vitamins/oral iron supplements before you even conceive. Depending on your iron level, your doctor may recommend adding a supplement to an iron-rich diet. Iron is an essential nutrient and iron deficiency is preventable – take the proper steps to keep yourself healthy and also your baby (when the time comes).
Stay tuned for Part 2: During Pregnancy…
This series is presented by Dr. Anne G. McLeod
Dr. McLeod is a hematologist who completed her training at the University of Toronto, McMaster University and Harvard University and currently works within the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology and the Thromboembolism Team at Sunnybrook Hospital.
Dr. McLeod is also an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and her area of academic interest is cancer-associated thrombosis and hematologic disorders in pregnancy.
In May we honour Mothers and, to that end, The Iron Maiden will be focusing on Mothers and Iron Deficiency. While it’s important as a health care professional to share their knowledge, it is equally as important to defer to specialists who have greater knowledge in certain areas to help better serve patients. I would like to thank Dr. McLeod for sharing her knowledge on this subject.
I would also like to acknowledge the selfless sacrifice of mothers fueled by love. I would also like to acknowledge that this nurturing act is not the function of a utilized womb, but something that comes from the heart and the core of one’s being. One does not have to conceive or bear children to nurture another to become a strong contributing member of our society. To all who selflessly nurture… Happy Mother’s Day ♥
– Leona Dove
Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs