Natural Remedies for Anemia During Pregnancy

Anemia during pregnancy is common, even for the most health conscious natural mamas. Here are natural solutions to help you restore your health.

Anemia during pregnancy is common, even for the most health conscious natural mamas. Here are natural solutions to help you restore your health.

So, your pregnancy is going along swimmingly well when all of a sudden you get the diagnosis: pregnancy anemia. Wha? What? How can that be? After all, you’re eating your perfect pregnancy diet and taking the best natural prenatal. You aren’t even a vegetarian.

Take heart, along with pregnancy acne, constipation, and heartburn, anemia during pregnancy is very common, even for the most natural and fastidious of mamas. Fortunately, there are plenty of natural solutions to restore this mineral.

What is Anemia?

Anemia is caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells. This affects how well oxygen is delivered from the lungs to the body’s tissues. (source) There are over 400 types of anemia, but the vast majority of anemia during pregnancy is caused by low iron, with folate deficiency coming in second. (source)

What Causes Anemia During Pregnancy?

Nearly 50 percent of all women have anemia while pregnant, so chances are fairly high that you’ll be dealing with the issue—even if you’ve never been anemic before and have a great diet. (source)

  1. Blood volume: Pregnant women have 25-40 percent more fluid running through their veins. (source) Your body is rushing blood to the baby to provide him with necessary nutrients. This process requires more red blood cells and more nutrients, namely iron, to support development.
  2. Bodily fluids: This increase further dilutes red blood cell count. (source)
  3. Vegetarians: Animal protein is one of the best sources of iron. And even if you aren’t vegetarian, some moms have aversions to meat during pregnancy. (source)
  4. Multiples: You’re at a higher risk for developing anemia during pregnancy if you are carrying multiples, or your last pregnancy was spaced closely to your current one.
  5. Morning sickness: Frequent vomiting from morning sickness puts you at greater risk.
  6. Heavy periods: If you had heavy periods prior to becoming pregnant, you’re more likely to be anemic. Heavy bleeding from polyps, ulcers, or even donating blood also depletes red blood cell count. (source)

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Pregnancy Anemia Symptoms

There are several indicators that your body is anemic. You may have just a few symptoms, or you may have all of them. Keep in mind these symptoms can also be caused by other pregnancy issues, like blood pooling in the feet, hormonal changes, or lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels. (source)

  • Light headedness and dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating or brain fog (This can also be a sign of zinc deficiency.)
  • Pale skin, lips and nails
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Weakness

(source, source, and source)

Getting the Right Type of Iron

Diet plays a crucial role in maintaining iron, folate, and B12 levels, all of which are necessary for preventing and reversing anemia. (source)

There are two different types of iron: heme and nonheme

  • Heme iron is found only in red meat, seafood, and poultry
  • Nonheme iron is found in plant foods like spinach, lentils, and beans and is also the type used to fortify products. Unfortunately, nonheme iron is harder for the body to absorb, even though the majority of us consume a higher ratio from nonheme sources. (source)

And if you’re depending on the iron pills from your local store to stave off anemia, think again. Most iron supplements contain ferrous sulfate, a nonheme and poorly absorbed form of iron. It can also cause mild to severe nausea, as it’s difficult for your body to digest. (source)

Avoid Foods That Inhibit Absorption

What’s more?

  • Polyphenols, like those found in spinach, berries, fruit, nuts, legumes, cereals, and broccoli inhibit iron absorption.
  • Phytates also inhibit the body’s ability to use iron and can be found in grains and beans.
  • Tannins from tea can decrease iron absorption up to 50 percent. (source)
  • Calcium is double trouble when it comes to iron absorption, since it can decrease the bioavailability of both heme and nonheme iron by 50-60 percent.

In other words, that iron-fortified breakfast cereal with milk is about the worst source of iron you can find! (source)

Iron-fortified breakfast cereal with milk is just about the worst source of iron you can find

Natural Remedies for Pregnancy Anemia

Red meat

Many people don’t want to hear this, but red meat is one of the highest and most bioavailable sources of iron.

Beef liver contains 1.4 mg per ounce and ground beef contains .6 mg per ounce. (source) Even though raw spinach has .8 mg of iron per ounce, it’s the nonheme kind, so less is absorbed. (source) Spinach also contains polyphenols that decrease iron absorption even more. (source, source)

And in case you’re wondering, one ounce of beef is only the size of a small matchbook (3×5 inches), while an ounce of spinach is about 1 cup packed full. (source) Remember, the beef iron is absorbed better so you don’t need as much as you would with plant food.

Liver pills and shots

Beef and chicken liver are very high in bioavailable iron, but the taste can be a little hard to swallow. Frozen liver pills are a good option for those who don’t want to eat a lot of meat or are struggling with food aversions.

To make liver pills, slightly defrost frozen liver and chop into pill-sized chunks before refreezing. These can be swallowed or thrown into a blender for smoothies. This recipe is for a raw liver “shot,” if you’re not up for the pills.

Be sure to use liver that’s been frozen for at least 14 days and from a high quality source to minimize the presence of pathogens. If you don’t feel comfortable, eat pate or liver and onions instead.

Molasses

Molasses is not only high in iron, but it also has magnesium, potassium, and B6. It’s what gives  gingerbread its iconic flavor. It tastes especially yummy in this superfood gingerbread latte. And if you use this Dandy blend coffee substitute, you’ll avoid the caffeine and get even more iron from the dandelion.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C increases iron absorption from nonheme plant sources, so incorporate some green peppers or oranges into your meals. It does not, however, have much of an effect on heme iron sources from animal proteins. Heme iron is absorbed about 6-10 percent better than nonheme iron, even if the plant based form is taken with vitamin C. (source)

You can get vitamin C from a food-based vitamin supplement or mix a teaspoon of camu camu powder with water. You can even throw some spinach and vitamin C powder into your morning smoothie for increased absorption.

Terrasoul Camu Camu powder

Chlorophyll 

Chlorophyll is a green pigment that helps plants absorb nutrients, but it’s also beneficial to humans. Because it’s chemically similar to hemoglobin, studies suggest chlorophyll increases blood oxygen levels.

Chlorophyll is found in many green plants and vegetables, though these foods are particularly rich in the substance: 

  • Spinach
  • Wheatgrass
  • Alfalfa
  • Green cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Collard greens
  • Matcha green tea

Chlorophyll supplements, like this one, are also an option. These products generally contain chlorophyllin, a semi-synthetic mixture of water-soluble sodium copper salts derived from chlorophyll that may be more readily absorbed by the body. (source) Note: Though these supplements are generally regarded as safe for pregnant women, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider before supplementing. 

Supplementation for Pregnancy Anemia

If you don’t eat animal foods, then you’re at a much higher risk for iron deficiency, even more so when pregnant. Vegetarians and vegans can supplement with MegaFood blood builder for anemia during pregnancy. Others, with milder anemia, can try taking liver pills, which has a nice balance of iron, zinc, copper, and B vitamins. Floradix Iron and Herbs is a great choice.

Keep in mind: Although most prenatals contain iron, most anemic moms will need to take supplemental iron to get their levels to normal range.

Herbs for Pregnancy Anemia

Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar gives the recipe for an Herbal Iron Syrup in this book. It includes nutrient rich dandelion, alfalfa, and nettle among others to nourish blood. Yellow dock root is known to be particularly rich in plant-based iron.

Blood Builder Tincture for Pregnancy Anemia

Combine equal parts dried yellow dock, nettle, alfalfa, dandelion leaf, and lemon grass for a blood-building formula. This blend also helps increase iron absorption.

  • Fill a glass jar 1/3 full of the herbs and add vinegar to fill, leaving about 1/2 inch of space at the top.
  • Cap tightly and shake daily before straining three weeks later.
  • Take 60 drops before every meal to help with iron absorption. (source)

Anemia During Pregnancy is Reversible…

Dealing with anemia during pregnancy can seem overwhelming, but fortunately there are plenty of natural remedies that can help reverse the condition or at least make you feel much better. Talk to your midwife or OB/GYN about what’s best for you and baby.

How About You?

Did you have anemia during pregnancy? What remedies worked for you? Share below so we can learn from one another!

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

26 Comments

  1. Cooking on cast iron is an easy way to introduce more iron…and there’s no side effects!

  2. My midwife recommended I supplement three raw alfalfa tablets with every meal. After three days of that, my anemia was gone.

  3. I do notice my balance was getting worse, and my memory, as well as erectile dysfunction and spasms’ had no choice to sick for other solution and I was introduce to totalcureherbsfoundation om  which I purchase the MS herbal formula from the foundation, the herbal supplement has effectively get rid of multiple sclerosis and reversed all symptoms. 

  4. Great Info. I am dealing with severe anemia while pregnant and I love all the natural options and how you explained the difference between irons and their absorbing methods. ??

  5. Floradix floravital iron+ herbs has some herbs that are not safe during pregnancy yet I hear so many people in the natural birthing community recommend it. Can you please shed some light on this?

  6. Are you only doing pregnancy related posts now? I know last year you mentioned, that this was on your heart, but I thought your blog was still going to be balanced with all things related to natural living.

    • Hi Emily! Thank you for your patience! We are in the final push to get these pregnancy posts up as we’re launching our free week-to-week email series next month. We have several non pregnancy posts (YEAH!) in the hopper and will return to balanced content shortly. Xoxo

  7. My go to quick lunch or dinner: I eat a medium rare steak a couple of times a week over a huge bed of raw spinach dressed in apple cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Works every time. I wasn’t anemic this past pregnancy and I have been good now that my daughter is ten months old.

    Another meal I eat (if the chicken livers look good) is a recipe by Julia Child. It’s livers sautéed with mushrooms in butter. It’s so good, but I’m Greek so I grew up eating the stuff everyone is going ga ga over now. It just annoys me that the stuff we ate cause we were poor is outrageously expensive in America. Kale grows on the side of the wall outside my parents house in Greece along with wild herbs and a host of other greens. My Yaiya would just gather it up and make a huge pot of soup. The same ingredients can cost me upwards of 20 bucks!

  8. Uhhh. I hate this topic. As a biologist it just plain pisses me off. Not at you, Genevieve, at the medical establishment for not paying attention to basic biology and evolution. Our bodies are not perfect, and sometimes trade-offs were made to insure survival but not optimum functioning. All pregnant animals have the same dilemma- they must retain the fetus. This means that they need to insure their body doesn’t regect and attack it and so they slightly decrease their immune response. This causes both a behavioral and a physiological response to avoid infection. First, the pregnant mama becomes a bit wary of strange food, people… This insures her safety despite the depressed immune response. Secondly, her body does not produce enough red blood cells to keep iron levels the same as they were prepregnancy. Bacteria love iron, and if her blood has less of it ( but not so little it harms the baby) then bacteria won’t replicate as fast, giving her depressed immune system enough time to respond. It is normal and natural for this to occur. It occurs throughout the animal kingdom. We can increase our iron levels if we choose- especially if they are really really low (after all, we do live in a world with antibiotics) but we need to trust that our bodies are not broken. I wish doctors didn’t make women feel bad for a condition that is genetic and insures their safety. But unfortunately medical science draws their information from the general pool and then applies it to everyone, pregnant mamas included.

    • Where’s the like button for this site 😉 my physician husband says the same thing.

      • yeah! makes sense !

      • Shelley, thank you for the article. This is far simpler and perhaps easier to understand than my long winded response. I will keep it for the future. I think it is so important that Mamas trust their bodies during pregnancy. That is no easy feat. I know even at a progressive hospital with midwives that came highly recommended I came home from prenatal appointments feeling threatened, bullied, and sick just for having a normal pregnancy. I’m so glad I moved to a different state to give birth at home with a team that believed me when I said I was ok and didn’t poke and prod or insert needles if there wasn’t a need.

        • Good for u mama. I completely understand. Midwives doesnt mean what it used to these days. Many have become very mainstream

    • Thank you, this was comforting. The doctor wants me to take an iron supplement twice a day for the rest of my pregnancy because my hemo level is a 10. What I read, is only slightly below the normal range. I have no signs of anemia and feel good, praise God! I do not take everything the medical community says face value, I always do my own research. This seems to be a natural response in pregnancy and we don’t need to shove pills down our throats over every little thing. Eat and balanced diet, get plenty of rest, and use godly wisdom in all things!

    • Problem is it’s low enough for many that they don’t feel well. I craved red meat which tells me that I needed more iron.
      The deal is a lot of women are low in iron because they don’t get even the rda before they got pregnant. There was a study done that questioned whether the recommended amounts of iron for women are too low. They noted that women if they obtain adequate iron will have ferritin levels about the same as men at 100 or slightly above. It was determined that about 100 is optimal for full body requirements and when women were supplemented so that they have this level their stamina and energy and functionality scores increased a lot. Do a google search on is the the iron rda for women too low? You will find it. It’s on the website of the hematolgy society or something along those lines. Very very interesting stuff. So many women complain of fatigue and poor stamina. Maybe this is why.

  9. I’m 34 weeks pregnant and haven’t eaten meat for ten years. I’ve not had any problem with my iron levels during pregnancy and interestingly on my vegan facebook group there is only 1 or 2 women with anaemia but in my regular pregnancy group (where the pregnant ladies eat meat) i would say most of them are having problems with their iron levels. It seems most people having problems with anaemia are meat eaters, which seems odd. Also liver really isn’t recommended in pregnancy because of the extraordinarily high levels of vitamin A which have been shown to damage unborn babies.

    • I was vegetarian mostly vegan for several years. I wasn’t even pregnant and I developed low iron. I was not a junk eater either: beans, nuts and seeds lots of veggies cooked and some raw and some fruit.

  10. I feel nervous about eating raw liver…can you reassure me? 🙂

    • Please do not eat liver during pregnancy. It has very high levels of vitamin A which can cause birth defects.

      • Like Cassie said, those studies are from synthetic vitamin A, not food-based.

        • That’s odd as in the UK we have very clear warnings to avoid liver and high vitamin A animal foods

          • There’s a really good artcile on Vitamin A and the flawed science behind the recommendations to limit Vitamin A during pregnancy on The Weston A Price website. I read this prior to my pregnancy and I am happy now to ensure I eat a portion of chicken liver pate weekly even during my pregnancy to help boost my nutrient levels, despite the recommendations to avoid liver and pate (I am in the UK)

  11. I am currently preparing for pregnancy (fingers crossed) and have been taking frozen liver pills for about over a month now. The method is basically to partially thaw out (partially because its easier to chop up liver that is partially frozen and not..well jiggly) the liver and chop in to small “pill” sizes and refreeze on a cookie sheet. Once frozen again, place in a jar in the freezer for easy dosing. I take about 6-10 frozen liver pills a day depending on their size. I always use grass fed local cows liver and I freeze the liver for at least 14 days before I chop it up in to pills. ( I learned this method from the blog primally inspired just to give credit where it is due).
    I have to say I wasn’t expecting to feel much difference but I really really do. I have so much more get up and go. I have more stamina and oddly enough my teeth that have always been really sensitive to cold are not anymore! Weird! I didn’t know this could be contributed to the liver until I saw people chatting on a blog about their teeth sensitivity diminishing after eating liver regularly.

    As for my chronic anemia I am positive my blood tests will be improved. I just feel so much more bounce in my step! Its so easy to take them -just be sure to chop the pills small enough for easy swallowing!
    I love your blog so much but I really miss your videos!!! I hope you two decide to do them again sometime. I always looked forward to them-theyre so informative and funny. You two do such a good job (have I convinced you yet 😉
    Thanks for all the great content

    • Thanks so much for sharing Tracy!!! So awesome to hear 🙂 We are still doing videos. We took about a month off but we’ve done some for the past few weeks. I haven’t posted them on the blog but you can find on my YouTube channel, Mama Natural. XOXO!


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