Iron is an essential mineral needed for forming red blood cells and transporting oxygen around the body via the bloodstream. It also helps to support a strong immune system.
During pregnancy, a mum’s iron needs increase to support the growth and development of her baby. During the last trimester, babies will build up their iron stores, thanks to mum, which will last for around 6 months until baby is ready to start solids.
How much iron do I need?
Pregnant women need up to 27mg iron per day. This is a significant increase from baseline levels of 18mg/day for non-pregnant women.
The amount of iron our body absorbs is dependant on how much it needs. Because a pregnant woman's iron needs are so high, her ability to absorb iron increases compared to non-pregnant women.
Iron supplementation is not routinely prescribed for pregnant woman, and reserved only for those who have been identified with suboptimal iron levels. Ensuring adequate iron stores prior to conception can help minimise the risk of iron deficiency or the need for iron supplementation during pregnancy.
Sources of iron
There are two types of iron in foods:
- Iron from animal sources is known as haem iron
- Iron from plant sources is called non-haem iron
Haem iron is more easily absorbed by the body.
Red meat is one of the richest sources of haem iron followed by salmon, pork and chicken. Fortified breakfast cereals, legumes and green leafy vegetables are also good sources of iron however they a not as easily absorbed as animal sources.
Iron absorption is enhanced when consumed with vitamin C-containing foods. This is particularly useful for people who follow a vegetarian diet. Adding vitamin C rich fruit (e.g. strawberries or kiwifruit) to breakfast cereal or pairing tomatoes with legume based dishes will help absorb the iron from these meals
Sources of haem iron
|Food||Iron content (mg)|
|Kangaroo, cooked, 65g||2.8|
|Beef (lean), cooked, 65g||2.1|
|Lamb (lean), cooked, 65g||1.8|
|Tuna, canned, 100g||1.2|
|Salmon, canned, 100g||1.1|
|Pork (lean), cooked, 65g||0.6|
|Chicken, cooked, 80g||0.6|
Sources of non-haem iron
|Food||Iron content (mg)|
|Quinoa, cooked, 100g||3.6|
|Pepita (sunflower seeds), 30g||3.3|
|Kidney beans, canned, 150||3.2|
|Weetbix cereal, 2 biscuits||3.0|
|Tofu firm, 170g||2.6|
|Chick peas, canned, 150g||2.7|
|Rolled oats, uncooked, 1/2 cup||1.8|
|Baby spinach, raw, 75g||1.3|
|Green peas, 1/2 cup cooked||1.1|
|Baked beans, 150g||1.5|
|Dried apricot, 30g||0.9|
Caution: Liver is a rich source of iron, however, due to it's very high Vitamin A content it is not recommended during pregnancy due to harm it may cause your baby.