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Increasing Iron in Your Diet During Pregnancy

(Also Called 'Increasing Iron in Your Diet During Pregnancy - Nutrition')

Why do I need iron?

Iron is a mineral that makes up an important part of hemoglobin, the substance in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron also carries oxygen in muscles, helping them function properly. In addition, iron helps increase your resistance to stress and disease.

The body absorbs iron more efficiently during pregnancy. Therefore it is important to consume more iron while you are pregnant to ensure that you and your baby are getting enough oxygen. Iron will also help you avoid symptoms of tiredness, weakness, irritability, and depression.

How much iron should I consume during pregnancy?

Following a balanced diet and including foods high in iron can help ensure that you are consuming enough iron throughout your pregnancy. In addition, the following guidelines will help:

1. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for iron is 30 milligrams (mg) per day for pregnant and lactating (breastfeeding) women.

2. Eating at least three servings of iron-rich foods a day will help ensure that you are getting 30 mg. of iron in your daily diet. Please refer to the chart below for a list of iron-rich foods. One of the best ways to get iron into your diet is to eat a highly fortified breakfast cereal, such as Total, which has 18 mg of iron. Note that iron intake is not equal to iron absorption. Absorption of iron into the body is greatest with meat sources of iron. 

3. The best sources of iron include enriched grain products; lean meat, poultry, and fish; and leafy green vegetables. Please refer to the chart below for a list of iron sources.

Should I take an iron supplement?

Talk to your health care provider about an iron supplement. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that all pregnant women following a balanced diet take an iron supplement providing 30 mg. of iron during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Your doctor might increase this dose if you become anemic. Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the size and number of red blood cells are reduced. This condition might result from inadequate intake of iron or from blood loss.

Sources of Iron

Meat & Seafood

Lean Beef
Chicken
Clams
Crab
Egg yolk
Fish
Lamb
Liver
Oysters
Pork
Sardines
Shrimp
Turkey
Veal

Fruits

All berries
Apricots
Dried fruits including prunes, raisins and apricots
Grapes
Grapefruit
Oranges
Plums
Prune juice
Watermelon

Legumes

Dry and peas
Lentils
Soybeans

Breads & Cereals

Enriched rice and pasta
Soft pretzel
Whole grain and enriched or fortified breads and cereals

Vegetables

Black-eyed peas
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Collard and turnip greens
Lima beans
Sweet potatoes
Spinach

Other Foods

Molasses
Peanuts
Peanut Butter
Pine nuts
Pumpkin or squash seeds

Other facts about iron
  • Vitamin C helps your body use iron. It is important to include sources of Vitamin C along with foods containing iron and iron supplements. Foods high in Vitamin C include orange juice, grapefruit juice, green peppers, broccoli, melon, strawberries, and cabbage.
  • Caffeine can inhibit the absorption of iron. Try to consume iron supplements and foods high in iron at least one to three hours before or after drinking or eating foods containing caffeine. In general, caffeine is found in coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate products. Caffeine-free colas and many medicines also contain caffeine.
  • Iron is lost in cooking some foods. To retain iron, cook foods in a minimal amount of water and for the shortest possible time. Also, cooking in cast iron pots can add up to 80 percent more iron to foods.
  • Constipation is a common side effect of taking iron supplements. To help relieve constipation, slowly increase the fiber in your diet by including whole grain breads, cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Drinking at least eight cups of fluids daily and increasing moderate exercise (as recommended by your physician) can also help you avoid constipation.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/21/2009...#5222