How to Optimize Iron Intake During Pregnancy

Iron in Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, one of the biggest gifts that you can give your unborn baby is taking the best possible care of yourself. The cute nursery, oodles of educational toys, and nifty onesies are fun to shop for and great to have on hand, but taking care of yourself by getting the nutrients, exercise, rest, and medical care that you need for your growing baby is essential. One of the many important nutrients that you need more of while pregnant is iron.

What Does Iron Do for You?

It has several roles in your body, including being part of a protein (hemoglobin) in your red blood cells that is needed for carrying oxygen to other cells and helping you to maintain a healthy immune system. 

Why Do You Need Extra Iron When Pregnant?

During pregnancy, you have about 50 percent more blood than normal, meaning you need more iron to make more hemoglobin. Also, your growing baby and the placenta need iron too. Many women are low in iron stores at the start of a pregnancy, so this is another reason for increasing your iron intake.  Your doctor may recommend an iron supplement to be sure that you are getting enough.

What can happen if you don’t get enough iron? Having iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy is associated with preterm delivery, low birth weight and fetal or newborn death. It can also make you feel exhausted and make it harder for your body to fight infection.

How Much Do You Need?

During pregnancy, the recommended amount of iron for pregnant women is 27 mg. You don’t need to eat this much daily; however, you’d like your intake to average this amount over the course of a few days to a week.

What Are Some Iron-Containing Foods?

Type of food

Serving Size

Amount of iron in mg

Iron-fortified ready to eat cereal

1 cup


Iron-fortified instant oatmeal

1 cup



1 cup


White beans, cooked

1 cup


Lentils, cooked

1 cup


Kidney beans, cooked

1 cup


Dark chocolate

1 square (29 grams)



1 cup


Lima beans

1 cup


Pumpkin seeds, roasted

1 ounce


Black or pinto beans, cooked

1 cup


Blackstrap molasses

1 tablespoon


Firm tofu

½ cup


Spinach, boiled

½ cup


Lean beef chuck

3 ounces


Lean beef tenderloin

3 ounces


Prune juice

1 cup


Turkey, roasted, dark meat

3 ounces


Peanut butter

4 tablespoons


Apricots, dried

5 whole


Turkey, roasted, breast

3 ounces



5 medium


Chicken, roasted, dark meat

3 ounces


Chicken, roasted, breast

3 ounces


Egg, hard cooked




3 ounces


Whole wheat or enriched white bread

1 slice



¼ cup



Tips for Eating Iron Rich Foods

  • Try to eat a wide variety of iron-rich foods every day. Heme iron, which comes from animals only, is easier for your body to absorb. But non-heme iron, which comes from plants as well as red meat, poultry and fish, still contributes to daily iron intake and is important too.
  • Eat foods containing vitamin C with your iron-rich foods to help absorption.
  • Many components of foods, such as calcium, can decrease the amount of iron absorbed by the body. But having vitamin C or a small amount of meat can boost absorption.
  • Avoid coffee and tea with your iron rich foods. They contain phenols that interfere with iron absorption.
  • Cooking in cast iron can add iron to food.
  • Cook food in a small amount of water for the shortest amount of time possible to lesson iron loss.

Adding more iron-rich foods to your diet can be as simple as enjoying a meal of white beans and rice, adding dried apricots into your trail mix, or adding some spinach and a hard cooked egg and/or chicken to your salad. With all the food sources of iron available, making sure that you eat enough iron is likely probably easier than picking out the perfect baby bedding.

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