Low iron proves an unnecessary burden during pregnancy


There is no need to eat in amounts for two when pregnant, but with increased nutrient requirements during this time, meeting the demands of a nutritious diet can be challenging.

During pregnancy, the recommended daily intake for iron rises by 50 percent and women who do not meet this target increase their risk of iron deficiency and anaemia which can lead to fatigue, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and increased risk of infection.

Furthermore, the risks extend to birth and the postpartum period as iron deficiency and anaemia are also associated with postnatal depression, increased likelihood of blood transfusion, difficulties with bonding and breastfeeding and reduced iron levels in the newborn.

Women who remain un-diagnosed may relate feeling run down to leading a busy lifestyle, and the mental fogginess and lack of concentration to ‘baby brain’, but all can be attributed to low iron or iron deficiency anaemia.

Iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world and New Zealand is not exempt with one in 14 New Zealand women suffering from the exhausting condition.

Dr Kathryn Beck, who spoke at yesterday’s World Iron Awareness Week symposium hosted by Massey University, says there are simple things women can do to optimise their iron stores during pregnancy.

“These include choosing iron rich foods, and eating foods rich in vitamin C with meals. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption and is found in high levels in fruits and vegetables such as oranges, kiwifruit, berries, broccoli and capsicum,” says Dr Beck.

For a healthy pregnancy, women not only need to have adequate levels of iron in their blood but they should also have plenty of iron stores.

Iron stores are like having savings in a bank account and depleted iron stores in early pregnancy leave nothing for the mother to draw on when iron requirements increase dramatically in the third trimester.

First trimester antenatal blood tests do not routinely test for ferritin, the iron storage protein, but if women are concerned about their iron levels or have any symptoms of iron deficiency, they should ask their Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) to test ferritin.

If you are concerned about your iron levels, make sure to speak with a registered dietitian, registered nutritionist or GP.

The symposium took place during World Iron Awareness Week, an annual campaign calling to attention the issue of iron deficiency in New Zealand, and worldwide. Since its conception in 2014, Beef + Lamb NZ Inc has facilitated the campaign with the ongoing support from many New Zealand public health organisations and individual health professionals.

This year’s campaign is running this week from May 1-7 with an aim to raise awareness on the importance of dietary iron in pregnancy, recognising the signs of low iron and what can be done about it.

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