Anemia is a common condition in pregnancy. Pregnancy increases your need for iron. Your baby needs to store iron is his or her body and you need to have adequate iron stores for breastfeeding. When you are anemic your body has a hard time bringing oxygen to your tissues. Anemia may cause uncomfortable symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness when you stand up or other symptoms. Going into labor anemic puts a woman at risk for a more difficult postpartum. A modest blood loss at birth may be too much for an anemic woman. She may experience a more difficult recovery with more fatigue.
If your care provider expresses concern about your hemoglobin level in pregnancy there’s a lot you can do to turn this situation around!
Iron supplements may be suggested, however, supplemental iron is not well tolerated by everyone. Some women experience constipation and other gastro-intestinal side effects with supplements. Absorption of supplemental iron is often poor. Try changing around your anemia with food first. Iron-rich foods are often rich in other minerals and vitamins that will benefit both you and your baby.
Iron Rich Foods
Make sure your diet contains ample high-quality iron.
Red-meat and dark meat chicken contain the highest amounts of iron. If you are a meat-eater try to add iron-rich meats to your diet. Dark meat as a source of iron also provides lots of proteins.
Beans and legumes are also an excellent source of iron. Beans also contain protein and lots of fiber.
Eggs contain iron as well.
Dark green leafy vegetables are a source of iron as well as many other minerals like calcium and magnesium. Dark green leafies also have lots of chlorophyll, a plant based nutrient that can dramatically reduce symptoms of anemia.
Can’t stomach the thought of a big plate of greens? Sneak them in. Chop up spinach and add it to your pasta sauce or lasagna, add small pieces of kale to your chicken soup. Or try this classic French cooking technique for delicious greens:
Sautee something aromatic in butter or olive oil. A shallot is the classic choice but garlic or onion works too.
Add your greens cook them until wilted and soft.
Add a splash of white wine and cook until the flavors are blended. If you don’t want to use wine or have any on hand, you can use vinegar.
In traditional Chinese Medicine berries are considered blood building. In some Native American cultures berries are considered “women’s foods” and of particular benefit to women. Adding berries and cherries to your diet is delicious medicine.
Some dried fruits are also good sources of iron, especially cherries and apricots.
Tips for Iron Absorption from Food and Supplements
Available iron is not always well utilized by the body: if you suffer from anemia consider the following way to boost your iron absorptions.
Eat iron with food rich in Vitamin C.
Avoid caffeine (inhibits iron absorption).
Make sure you consume B vitamin rich foods or use a supplement. Some anemias are caused by B Vitamin Deficiency.
Insure proper hydrochloric acid in the stomach. A good acid level helps with digestion and absorption. Avoid drinking lots of liquid at meals and use vinegar in your cooking or as a supplement with meals.
Eat vitamin E containing foods to help prevent the destruction of red blood cells. Vitamin E rich foods include nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, whole grains, high quality oils, avocados, soy, sea vegetables).
Avoid Calcium ingestion with iron (milk antacid, prenatal supplements.)
Herbs for Anemia
Herbs offer concentrated nutrition that is easily absorbed by the body.
Nettles (Urtica diocea) is an excellent nutritive tonic that has long been used in pregnancy. Nettles is high in iron and many, many other nutrients. Nettles boosts energy, improves the function of the kidneys and liver and is beneficial for the blood pressure, skin and urinary tract and may reduce swelling. Nettles makes a fine tea and can be mixed with other herbs like Mint or Red Raspberry Leaf. Nettles is also available in capsules or tinctures.
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is another nutritive tonic that is rich in iron and chlorophyll. Like Nettles, Alfalfa makes a pleasant tea and is available in capsules or tincture.
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) is powerful blood builder. Yellow Dock provides iron and aids the liver in the absorption, storage and release of iron. Yellow Dock is also used to help the bowels and provides relief from acid reflux symptoms. Yellow Dock is not normally used as a beverage—the flavor is earthy and strong. Yellow Dock is an excellent tincture.
Nutritive Syrups offer concentrated herbal nutrition in a palatable form that doesn’t require any preparation on your part. Floradix is one such syrup available nationwide at natural food stores. Local herbalists may have handmade syrups available as well. Syrups are usually taken in doses of 1-2 tablespoons with food. Syrups taste great!
Following some of the above suggestions will help turn around your low hemoglobin and help insure a healthy pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
The Nutrition Almanac by Lavon Dunne
What to Eat When You’re Expecting by Eisenberg, Murkoff and Hathaway
Naturally Healthy Pregnancy by Aviva Jill Romm
The Complete Woman’s Herbal by Anne McIntyre