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)
- 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.
- Bodily fluids: This increase further dilutes red blood cell count. (source)
- 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)
- 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.
- Morning sickness: Frequent vomiting from morning sickness puts you at greater risk.
- 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
(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
- 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
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 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 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 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:
- Green cabbage
- 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!