As you near the end of the first trimester of your pregnancy, your doctor is likely to prescribe a whole new set of pre-natal supplements, besides folic acid that you’d be taking right from the start in all likelihood. This primarily includes iron and calcium supplements, in addition to any other that you need based on your personal health index. The reason every pregnant woman is prescribed iron supplements is that your body’s iron requirement almost doubles during pregnancy, and in most cases, existing iron stores in the body and dietary changes are not enough to meet this requirement. It is important to take these supplements as well as add iron-rich foods to your diet as an iron deficiency during pregnancy can lead to anaemia, which can adversely affect foetal growth and maternal health.
The red blood cells in your bloodstream comprise haemoglobin, which essentially is a protein made from iron and helps in supplying oxygen to different parts of the body. Since during pregnancy you need double the amount of iron to increase the blood volume for supplying oxygen to your baby, the body’s natural iron stores no longer suffice in meeting that requirement. This could lead to a condition known as iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy that could hamper foetal growth.
It is important to recognise that iron deficiency during pregnancy is not synonymous with iron-deficiency anaemia. It is absolutely normal to have marginal iron deficiency during pregnancy and most pregnant women experience it. Mildly low levels of iron in the body do not affect your baby’s development in any manner. However, if the deficiency escalates to a point where it is classified as iron-deficiency anaemia, it could be a cause for concern.
Acute iron deficiency during pregnancy can pose serious health complications for your baby; this includes increased premature birth risk, low birth weight, and in some severe cases, even stillbirth or newborn death. A research study also linked iron deficiency during pregnancy to the heightened risk of autism for the baby. Iron plays a vital role in early brain development by contributing to immune function, neurotransmitter production and myelination – the three pathways closely linked with autism.
Given that a majority of expecting mothers experience at least borderline iron deficits, it becomes imperative to watch out for tell-tale signs of acute iron deficiency during pregnancy that could hamper foetal growth. The symptoms include fatigue and weakness, dizziness, irregular heartbeats, chest pain, shortness of breath, headaches, and cold feet and hands. If you experience any of these symptoms, you must discuss them with your doctor, who may order blood tests to screen you for iron-deficiency anaemia during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your body needs 27 mg of iron per day. The required intake may vary depending on the quantum of deficits in your body. So, your doctor is the best judge of the iron intake you should be aiming for during the course of your pregnancy. Even though iron deficiency during pregnancy can hamper foetal growth, it is possible to avoid these complications with the right kind of nutrition and supplements. The takeaway for expecting moms is to follow their doctors’ recommendations to the T to steer clear of this avoidable health complication.