Why do we need Iron in pregnancy, and what are the risks?

Did you know that nearly one in five Australian woman enter pregnancy with an iron deficiency (ID)?


Iron deficiency aneamia (being extremely low on iron) increases a woman’s risk of preeclampsia, foetal growth retardation, premature birth, low birth weight, and increases mother and perinatal infant mortality risk. Also, if you have lowered iron stores post birth, this is associated with an increased risk of long-term, irreversible mental and psycho-development deficits in your baby. How can we prevent this? To avoid having to take iron supplementation during the later stages of pregnancy (in order to lower these risks), ideally, we need any iron deficiency corrected prior to pregnancy, or during the first trimester.

So how much Iron do we need?


Blood volume increases progressively during pregnancy as you and your baby are growing, and this creates an increased need for iron intake. In order to maintain iron balance throughout pregnancy, your body needs iron reserves of 500 mg at the time of conception. That is serum ferritin of at least 50μg /I. A simple blood test from your GP can determine this. It can be difficult to meet recommended iron intake in the later part of pregnancy, so its best to ensure your levels are adequate prior to falling pregnant. Remember the recommended dietary intake (RDI) or iron during pregnancy is 27mg (thats about 3 serves of red meat per week), compared to 18mg for non-pregnant woman. Iron intake becomes most important in the final 10 weeks of pregnancy, as this is when your baby begins to build its own store of iron ready for the first 6 months of its life. This store is used until your baby starts on iron rich solids.


Food Sources of Iron
Haem Non-Haem
Iron from animal sources. Meats are the best source of iron. The redder the meat, the higher it is in iron.

This source of iron is much more readily absorbed than iron from plant sources.

Iron from plant sources.

Not as well absorbed. Consume with foods rich in vitamin C to increase absorption (fruit and vegetables).


Red Meat (Beef, Kangaroo, Lamb), Chicken, Fish, Pork


Green Leafy Vegetables (Spinach, Asparagus, Green Beans), Legumes (Kidney Beans), and Nuts (Cashews, Pine Nuts)


NB: Iron Blockers

Tea and coffee can block plant iron from being absorbed by the body due to tannin content. Drinks rich in calcium such as milk also block the absorption of iron in the gut. Avoid drinking tea, coffee and milk drinks with iron rich foods