In this post, we will take you through everything you need to know about iron supplements during pregnancy. You’ll learn about:
- The function of iron in pregnancy
- The most important prenatal vitamins
- Iron supplements in pregnancy
- The best iron supplement to take when pregnant
What is the function of Iron in Pregnancy
Iron is an essential mineral and micronutrient for nearly all living organisms. It has a vast array of roles in human physiological processes. Its most obvious function is it helps make the oxygen-carrying part of our red blood cells, haemoglobin and in the muscle tissue as myoglobin. It is vital for cell growth and division, and it has important roles in our immune system, in carrying and releasing energy (metabolism). We cannot exist without it, and having enough of it is an integral part of being healthy and well.
Despite it being the most essential of nutrients, it is estimated that 2.2 billion people do not have sufficient iron levels and unlike other nutrient status, it is seen in every country, regardless of the economic situation.
Women are disproportionally affected due to the fact that when we menstruate, we lose blood through our period. We also carry fewer stores of iron (ferritin in our blood) than our male counterparts AND we grow other humans! The requirement for iron in pregnancy increases 2-3 fold – as much as 30-60 mg a day (World Health Organisation). It cannot be overstated that ensuring you have enough iron in your diet before during and after pregnancy is one of the most important things you can do!
Prenatal Vitamins and Iron
When you are planning a pregnancy or find out you are pregnant, this presents a great opportunity to get your body and mind into a healthier place. The first step in this journey is often your diet. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to be bombarded with information, but in simple terms the most important vitamins for pregnancy are folic acid, vitamin D, omega fatty acids and of course iron.
Eating a rich and varied diet filled with essential vitamins and minerals means you are giving your body and your growing baby all the things you both need to be well. However, because of the greatly increased requirements, it may not be possible to get all that you need through diet alone. Therefore, taking a prenatal multivitamin and iron supplements ensures that you are getting everything that you need.
Folic acid, or folate, is important to reduce the risk of neural tubal defects such as spina bifida, Omega fatty acids help the brain grow and develop and vitamin D regulates other minerals and is responsible for healthy bone formation. All things that your growing baby needs.
As mentioned, the amount of iron you need during pregnancy hugely increases. Many women, without being aware, might not have enough in their diet already. Why is this? Well, risk factors include having heavy periods, having a restricted diet such as vegan or vegetarian, having a lifestyle that includes endurance exercise, having an unbalanced or poor diet, having an underlying condition such as Crohn’s or thalassemia and having a history of inadequate iron, which you might not even know about!
Although you get your bloods checked at your booking appointment (between 12 and 14 weeks) this doesn’t check whether your iron stores while pregnant, will be enough. You don’t get your bloods rechecked until your 3rd trimester so, between your first blood check and 3rd trimester blood check, many women are not getting enough iron and therefore iron supplements while pregnant are important.
As 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, it’s a really good idea to take vitamin and iron supplements prior to conception or as soon as you find out you are pregnant.
Iron supplements in pregnancy
Not all iron supplements are created equally!! When I became pregnant myself and although as a midwife with years of experience, I had never deeply investigated why some iron supplements for pregnant women and multivitamins with iron for pregnancy are better than others.
Iron is not absorbed in the same way as many other vitamins and minerals. It is transferred in supplement form or from a food source via a carrier mechanism, at the very bottom of the stomach called the duodenum. Most iron supplements get broken down much higher up in the tummy. This leads to two things: gut irritation and all the nasty side effects such as indigestion, heartburn and constipation AND not actually absorbing most of the iron supplement.
Conversely, taking an iron supplement in pregnancy is so important to help prevent fatigue, tiredness, but you don’t want to take something that is going to make the normal discomforts of pregnancy so much worse! Understanding this was the beginning of learning that, in my option, the best iron supplement for pregnancy was Active Iron! I took it myself and then did a huge amount of research to understand why I found it better than other iron supplements I tried.
And now there is Active Iron Pregnancy Plus which has a Multivitamin with Active Folic, omega 3 and 25mg of Active Iron- literally everything that you need for a healthy pregnancy.
Best iron supplement for pregnancy
Why is Active Iron so good? Its iron content is wrapped in a whey protein covering, which means it doesn’t get broken down and absorbed until it’s in the exact right place- the duodenum.
Because it is highly absorbed compared to other iron supplements¹, nearly all the iron is available for your body to use and because it is not reacting with your stomach lining higher up in your digestive tract, it helps reduce gut irritation.
In fact, results from a new clinical study have shown that Active Iron was six times less likely to cause gut irritation compared to previous oral iron². Active Iron also showed a 94% increase in iron stores², with a significant improvement in resulting energy levels².
Iron Supplements during pregnancy: in a nutshell
Iron is one of the most vital supplements to take to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Because rates of inadequate iron are so high and the requirements of pregnancy increase the need for iron so much, it is a really good idea to take a prenatal iron supplement for your entire pregnancy and ideally pre-conceptively.
Most iron supplements can cause side effects that can heighten the discomforts of pregnancy (and this puts a lot of people off taking them). Active Iron is different and works in harmony with your body to give you all you need while having much better absorbency rates and much less discomfort!
Taking iron supplements in pregnancy is a great way to reduce your risk of fatigue and give your baby a great start in life. In my opinion, as a midwife, there isn’t a better iron supplement for pregnancy than Active Iron.
- 1. Wang et al. 2017, Acta Haematologica, 138: 223-232. 2. Ledwidge et al. 2021, Data on file.