If you have recently discovered that you are expecting a baby, your doctor has likely recommended that you begin taking a prenatal vitamin. Your nutrient needs increase while you are pregnant, and a prenatal vitamin can help you consume adequate amounts of what you and your growing baby need. One of these nutrients is iron, but if you are at risk for anemia or eat a diet low in iron, your doctor may also recommend that you take an additional iron supplement.
Iron During Pregnancy
You need to consume 27 mg of iron each day while you are expecting, compared to the 18 mg you need when you are not pregnant. Baby Center reports that while you are pregnant, your blood volume increases by about 50 percent. Since iron plays an important role in the formation of hemoglobin, you need more of this mineral to support this increase in blood volume. Iron also helps support the healthy formation of your placenta, as well as the formation of your baby's bones, cartilage and tissues.
Low Iron During Pregnancy
Iron-deficiency anemia can occur while you are pregnant if you do not get enough iron in your daily diet or from a prenatal vitamin. Many women have low iron before they become pregnant, which can also lead to anemia, Baby Center reports. Developing anemia may cause a lack of energy and may make it harder for your body to fight off infections. Iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy can also increase your risk of preterm delivery, having a low birth weight baby and fetal or infant death. Baby Center notes that a low iron count may also increase your risk of suffering from postpartum depression after your baby is born.
Prenatal Vitamins and Additional Iron
Most brands of prenatal vitamins contain about 30 mg of iron, which is sufficient if you have a normal iron count. The only reason you would take an additional iron supplement is if your prenatal vitamin does not contain the daily recommended amount or if you are already anemic. Baby Center cautions against taking extra iron, because too much iron may have a negative impact on your unborn baby. Too much iron in your blood can contribute to gestational diabetes and play a role in miscarriage and pre-eclampsia. Do not take an iron supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin without the approval of your doctor.
Food Sources of Iron
If you are low in iron, you can also boost your levels by adding nutritious and iron-rich foods to your diet instead of taking a supplement that can pose a danger to your unborn baby. Lean beef, pork, poultry and fish are all healthy sources that also supply you and your unborn baby with protein. Beans, lentils, fortified cereals and breads and leafy green vegetables are additional food sources of iron. Ask your doctor how much iron you should get from your food, depending on how much iron is in your prenatal vitamin.