Photo by me: foods rich in iron, folic acid and vitamins B-12 and C
It’s hard enough trying to balance all of the rules, changes, recommendations, and ups and downs of pregnancy, let alone to manage all of these things when you are over 35 years old. There’s real pressure to make pristine choices to avoid and lower your risk – and because you’re older, your risk is greater – for everything from too much weight gain, too little weight gain, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, anemia, low birth rate, and so on.
A huge part of my pregnancy journey has been my nutrition. I have working knowledge of the best diet regimen for my personal bio-individual needs – especially since I have celiac disease and I need to boost my nutrient intake. I have been taking a high quality, organic, food-based prenatal vitamin, along with a vitamin D3 supplement, prenatal DHA (Omega-3 support), and a 90-billion count probiotic. All of these supplements address my personal needs.
Most importantly, I have been eating whole foods, organic whenever possible, and no processed food. I have totally eliminated alcohol and significantly minimized my caffeine intake. I’m following all of the rules. I’m really trying!
At 17 weeks, I had my blood drawn for about 8 different vials – primarily for genetic testing and to learn our baby’s gender. My inbox has been receiving messages daily with a new test result in, one by one. All of the tests, thus far, have shown nothing but good health! It’s been a relief. However, yesterday, I received the results for my blood count with about 12 segments of my blood tested and analyzed. My blood counts were all good, within normal ranges, except for my hemoglobin. It was marked in the “Flag” section of the results with an ominous letter “L” for low.
My hemoglobin checked in at 11.5 g/dL, which is low for a non-pregnant healthy woman. However, normal hemoglobin in pregnancy is typically anywhere between 10-14 g/dL.
So, what’s the deal with low hemoglobin and pregnancy?
Hemoglobin level of pregnancy can naturally lower to 10.5 gm/dL, which represents a normal anemia of pregnancy. Normal anemia?
What is anemia? It is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a main part of red blood cells and binds oxygen. If you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or your hemoglobin is abnormal or low, the cells in your body will not get enough oxygen.
Anemia is very common! Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness or increased heartbeat.
Typcially treatment for anemia depends on the underlying diagnosis. Iron supplements may be used for iron deficiency. Vitamin B supplements maybe used for low vitamin levels. But, anemia in pregnancy is normal and can often be corrected via proper nutrition.
According to americanpregnancy.org, “a fall in hemoglobin levels during pregnancy is caused by a greater expansion of plasma volume compared with the increase in red cell volume.” This is because pregnant women usually increase anywhere from 30 to 50 percent more blood volume than women who are not pregnant.
This is why pregnant women are often advised to increase their iron levels. Ideally, this is accomplished by modifying the diet to eat more iron-rich foods.
I thought I was doing a good job of getting my daily recommended amounts of iron through my diet. And, to be fair, I was probably doing a pretty good job. This blood count test just affirmed for me the need to increase my food intake and by making healthy nutritious choices to meet those growing nutrient needs.
Your baby practically steals your nutrients from your body, so, your nutrient intake needs to exceed what is normal for you prior to pregnancy.
Many women will hear “low iron” and run for the burgers and steaks. While lean meats are an excellent source for iron, it’s not enough.
While increasing your intake of iron-rich foods like whole eggs, spinach, artichokes, beans, lean meats, and seafood, you also need to add foods rich in cofactors – specifically folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin C – which are important for maintaining normal hemoglobin levels. Keep in mind a cofactor is necessary substance that is essential for an enzymatic reaction to complete. So, in order for your body to properly process iron, cofactors like folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin C are necessary for the enzymatic reaction to complete, breaking down the vitamins and minerals so that they can get absorbed into the blood stream to nourish you and your baby.
So, consuming all of the iron-rich foods in the world won’t matter if you don’t also eat cofactors to get the most out of the iron in your diet. Make sense?
Here’s a list of iron-rich foods:
green leafy vegetables
Here’s a list of foods rich in cofactors folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin C:
For questions or concerns about low hemoglobin and anemia in pregnancy, contact your healthcare provider. You can always start with managing your diet to include these nutrient-rich foods. If your levels are still low, do not self diagnose iron or other supplements without your healthcare provider’s instruction. This is because there are different doses and even possible contraindications associated with supplementation. To protect yourself and your baby, it’s best advised to get professional advice based on your personal needs.