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Preventing Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy

Posted by in Health: Reproductive Health  ~  June 24, 2012 12:50:41 PM

For pregnant women, consuming a good amount of iron is essential. That’s because iron has many vital functions, which include carrying oxygen to the tissues from the lung, facilitating the use and storage of oxygen in the muscles and is a part of many enzymatic reactions in the body. A deficiency of iron, therefore, can interfere in these functions and can lead to increased mortality and morbidity.

Consequences of iron deficiency in pregnancy

Iron deficiency is the most prevalent form of nutritional deficiency and is commonly found in pregnant women. Untreated iron deficiency can result in anemia, which can continue during or even beyond lactation. This is because the exhausted iron stores take a long time to replenish. The deficiency increases the risk of a premature delivery and a low birth weight baby. Other than this, iron deficiency, contributes to the feeling of tiredness and difficulty in concentrating.

How much iron is required during pregnancy?

Before conception your iron requirement varies between 15 to 20 milligrams per day. During pregnancy, you need twice this amount to cope up with the increase in blood volume during pregnancy. The requirements are also increased to fulfill the needs of the placenta and the foetus. If you do not take in enough iron, your haemoglobin levels do not rise and you are likely to become iron deficient.

How is anaemia treated?

During pregnancy, supplements are required to maintain the iron levels in the body. These supplements may be taken once or twice a day as per the doctor’s prescription. The iron supplementation depends on the haemoglobin levels at the beginning of pregnancy and high doses are required if anaemia already exists. The dosage is decided on the basis of the blood report.

Prevention of iron deficiency.

The three basic approaches to the prevention of anaemia include supplementation with medicinal iron and dietary modification.

Supplementation: The dietary requirement of iron during the second and third trimester of pregnancy is 25 milligram per 1000-calorie intake. A normal diet is unable to meet this requirement, hence supplements are needed. As per the recommendations of the national nutritional anaemia control program, the dosage should be one big tablet containing 100 mg of iron and 500 micrograms of folic acid for 100 days after the first trimester of pregnancy, for a moderately severe case.

Dietary modification: The iron bioavailability (that is the absorption and utilization of iron), from a typical American diet is very poor and should be modified by changing the balance with iron absorption enhancers and inhibitors. Vitamin C is an iron enhancer while tea and coffee act as inhibitors. For an increased absorption, the enhancer should be taken with the meal and not 1 or 2 hours before the meal. Consumption of vitamin C rich foods in the meal enhances iron absorption. Studies have reported a three times increase in iron absorption by consumption of 125 grams of cauliflower in the meal. Inhibitors such as phytates are naturally present in cereals and vegetables. So they cannot be avoided. The only solution lies in increasing the intake of enhancers such as orange, guava, cabbage etc. Increase the intake of meat and fish as they provide iron in a form that is easily absorbed. Avoid the intake of tea and coffee along with and shortly after the meal. Take good quantities of green leafy vegetables, pulses and wheat, as they are rich vegetarian sources of iron.

Fortify your diet with iron right from the very beginning to ensure that you have a healthy pregnancy as well as a healthy baby.