During pregnancy, a woman’s iron needs increase. Because it’s important to get enough iron while you’re pregnant, as well as when you’re nursing, your doctor may suggest taking iron supplements. But the extra iron won’t affect your baby, according to Howard Kurtz, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Medical School. However, if you’re iron deficient, it could affect your baby.
Supplements During Pregnancy
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the recommended daily amount of iron for pregnant women is 30 mg, compared to 18 mg for other women. It’s possible to get enough iron from your diet to meet your needs during pregnancy, but most women need to take an iron supplement. The iron in your supplement won’t affect your baby, however. “Your developing baby is your body’s priority during pregnancy, so your natural iron stores will go to your baby first,” Dr. Kurtz explains. If your iron stores aren’t enough for both you and your baby, however, you could develop anemia. According to a study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” anemia during pregnancy increases the risk of a premature delivery and having an underweight baby.
Supplements During Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding mothers need the same amount of iron as they do during pregnancy. Women are often advised to continue taking prenatal vitamins as long as they are breastfeeding, and these vitamins usually contain a large dose of iron. But the amount of iron in your breast milk won’t be affected by your supplements. Breast milk naturally contains iron. And because babies also receive iron while in the womb, it’s rare for breastfed babies to be iron-deficient during the first six months of life. If you have any concerns about your baby’s iron status, a simple blood test can be done in your pediatrician’s office.
Taking in too much iron could cause problems for you and your baby. Excessive iron in your blood can lead to gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or miscarriage, according to Baby Center.com. Untreated preeclampsia can lead to fatal complications for you and your baby. Gestational diabetes can lead to an overweight baby, which may require having a c-section. Babies born to moms with gestational diabetes are also at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes later in childhood. Because many foods also contain iron, you should only take iron supplements under the supervision of your doctor.
Iron supplements can sometimes cause constipation. To ease this side effect, BabyCenter.com recommends taking your supplement at bedtime and drinking a little prune juice to help get things moving. If you’re not anemic, you might talk to your doctor about switching to a supplement with a lower dose of iron. Red meat and egg yolks are excellent food sources of iron. Adding foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, strawberries and tomatoes, to your diet can greatly increase your iron absorption. A nutritious diet rich in fruits and vegetables during pregnancy and lactation also boosts your baby’s health.
- Howard Kurtz, M.D., ob-gyn physician, New York OBGYN, New York City; clinical ob-gyn instructor, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
- Cleveland Clinic: Increasing Iron In Your Diet During Pregnancy; December 2009
- La Leche League of Northern Arizona: Should My Breastfed Baby Be Receiving Vitamin Supplements?; January 2008
- BabyCenter: Iron in Your Pregnancy Diet