Have you done the test, seen the doctor, and confirmed you’re pregnant? Congratulations!
However, your blood tests show your iron levels are below what they should be. You may now be wondering which is the best iron supplement for pregnancy.
When I was pregnant I was tired beyond belief. I could sleep all night and still nap most of the day. Then I found out my iron levels were low and it was not typical fatigue in pregnancy.
The question then was “Where on earth do I find a supplement?” There are so many on the market, it gets a bit confusing after a while. Let’s take a look at why you need iron supplements and then we’ll tell you our top five picks.
Why Do We Need Iron?
Does needing iron conjure up visions of having to suck on a lump of metal? Maybe you think you’ll be like Popeye; downing can after can of spinach. You’ll be pleased to know that’s not how it works, although spinach is a good source of iron.
Iron is a mineral that our bodies need to stay healthy. The red blood cells contain most of the iron in our body, in a pigment called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen around our body to the cells, organs, and tissues where it’s needed (1).
When iron levels are low, so are the levels of hemoglobin. This is bad news as it reduces the oxygen supply. Anemia is the name given to low hemoglobin levels.
The normal levels during the first and last trimester of pregnancy are considered to be above 11 grams per deciliter. This changes during the second trimester, when they can be a bit lower, at 10.5 grams per deciliter.
You might feel a bit like a pin cushion during pregnancy, having samples taken all the time. It is necessary, though, to make sure all is well. One of the things checked during blood tests is your iron levels.
Doctors will also check how much iron your body has stored. Yes, it can retain a certain amount of iron for when it’s needed. If you have depleted your stores and your hemoglobin levels are low, you’ll need iron supplements (2).
Why are your iron levels are low
If you’re deficient in iron, you can start to feel tired, weak, and dizzy. Your pregnancy glow can wane and you will look pale and probably find yourself breathless. On top of all your other pregnancy symptoms, this is no walk in the park (3).
Cooking some of your food in an old-fashioned iron skillet will leach iron into your meals, thus increasing your iron stores (4).
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
Foods That Increase Iron Levels
Many foods contain iron and they can boost your levels. This is by far the best way to get that essential mineral into your body.
Some iron comes from animals and others from plants. While both contain iron, it’s not the same type.
Animal sources contain heme iron which is absorbed easier than that which comes from plants, called non-heme iron. Foods which are rich in iron include (5):
- Meat, including beef, turkey, lamb, chicken, pork, and veal.
- Seafood, including tuna, mackerel, haddock, sardines, and shrimp.
- Shellfish, like clams, scallops, and oysters.
Avoid raw or unpasteurized eggs as well as limiting mercury-containing fish.
- Vegetables, including spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, string beans, and peas.
- Bread, including whole wheat, rye, and enriched white.
- Cereals, like bran and oats.
- Beans, including kidney, white beans, and dried varieties.
- Lentils and dried peas.
- Corn and maple syrups and molasses.
- Tomato products.
- Fruits, including dates, strawberries, figs, prunes, and watermelon.
- Dried fruits, like apricots and peaches.
- Peanut butter.
Iron is absorbed better by our body when it’s accompanied by vitamin C. So help yourself to a nice chilled glass of orange juice with your iron-rich foods. If you’re having cereal, chop up some fresh strawberries in it (6).
Tea and coffee, as well as caffeinated drinks, are not your friend when it comes to iron absorption. It reduces the uptake of iron from your food, or a supplement. If you must have your daily caffeine fix, then make sure it’s a few hours after taking an iron supplement or iron-rich meal (7).
Another thing that can interfere with the absorption of iron is calcium. Make sure you don’t take a calcium supplement at the same time as an iron one. Also, avoid milk and other dairy products for an hour before and two hours after taking your iron boost (8).
What to Look for in a Supplement
Narrowing down the ingredients that will benefit you can help you make an informed decision when choosing an iron supplement. Here are some of the things you should look for.
- The amount of iron: We have mentioned that during pregnancy you should have 27 milligrams of iron a day. Remember, this won’t only come from the supplement — your body will absorb some from food as well. Consequently, a lower dose in a supplement is fine, as long as you’re also getting iron from your diet (9).
- Vitamins: Many iron supplements will also contain vitamin C and other vitamins, like B12 and folates (vitamin B9). The vitamin C will help absorption of the iron while the B vitamins help prevent birth defects, like spina bifida and central nervous system disorders. Folates also help with the production of red blood cells, helping prevent anemia (10).
- Tablet, capsule, or liquid: Iron supplements often have a metallic taste and some tablets and capsules can be large. If you find you can’t swallow what looks like a horse pill, then there are liquids and chewable tablets available.
- Different types of iron: In supplements, you’ll find various iron sources such as elemental iron, ferrous fumarate, and ferrous sulfate, to name a few. You might find one type suits you better than another – if the one you choose gives you lots of side effects then change to a different type. Your healthcare provider should be able to advise you as to which type of iron you need.
The Best Pregnancy Iron Supplements of 2020
Now we know why iron is important to you when pregnant. Let’s look at the ones we have chosen as our top five picks of the iron supplements available.
1. Mega Food Blood Builder
When looking for an iron supplement when pregnant, you want to make sure it’s as natural as you can get. One that is as close as possible to obtaining iron from fresh foods and contains other vitamins to support your pregnancy is ideal. Before taking any supplement, check with your OB provider to ensure the vitamins in your new supplement aren’t more than what you should be taking when combined with your prenatal vitamin.
This multivitamin and iron supplement from Mega Food is gentle on the stomach and should not cause constipation. Containing 26 mg of iron, it also has vitamin C to help iron absorption and vitamin B12 and folates for pregnancy health.
It’s available in four different sizes from 30 to 180 tablets. This is great because you can save money by buying in bulk.
Another great thing about these tablets is they are suitable for vegans and vegetarians. They are certified kosher and free from GMO. They have no dairy or soy and are also gluten-free.
- Contains beetroot which can help lower blood pressure if your blood pressure is on the higher side (11).
- Helps boost iron levels and prevent fatigue.
- Tablets are not too large and shaped to be easy to swallow.
- Some find the tablets taste metallic.
2. Blue Iron Liquid Mineral Supplement
Do you find pills hard to swallow? Supplement tablets and pills can sometimes be quite large. A liquid can be more palatable and far easier to take.
Flavored with blueberries, this liquid supplement from Blue Iron is suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and good for expectant moms. The recommended daily dosage of 15 milliliters will supply 25 mg of iron.
The addition of vitamin C, B12, and E enhance the formula, allowing you to absorb the iron easily and boost the production of hemoglobin. I like that this has a patented absorption which makes it gentle on your stomach and alleviates constipation associated with iron supplements.
It also contains biotin which can help the health of your unborn baby (12).
- Contains folic acid.
- Plant-based iron.
- Dosage can be adjusted to supply less iron if necessary.
- Many moms like the taste.
- No other flavor options if you dislike the blueberry.
- Contains less iron than the other brands.
3. Garden of Life Iron Complex
Capsules can often slide down easier than a tablet, especially when they are slightly on the larger side. If this sounds good to you, then this capsule iron supplement may suit you better than a tablet.
This product is certified vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, and is made from natural plant products. It is delivered in a single capsule, which measures just less than 1 inch. Although this is fairly large, it will slide down quite easily with a glass of juice or water.
As well as 22 mg of plant-based iron, it also contains vitamins B12 and C, and folates. It is easily digested and does not upset your stomach.
I particularly like that it also contains probiotics and enzymes, which can help support digestive health. They help the good bacteria in your stomach and help with diarrhea or constipation (13).
- Made from organic natural plants and fruits.
- Can be opened and added to juice or water.
- Does not contain any binders or fillers.
- Only 30 capsules in the bottle.
- Only 22 milligrams of iron.
4. Natures Plus Chewable Iron
In the words of Mary Poppins, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” So imagine having an iron supplement which tastes just like a candy when you chew it. It might be much nicer than swallowing pills or drinking a liquid supplement.
Flavored with raspberry and cherry, these chewable tablets will deliver a dose of 27 mg of iron per tablet. They are suitable for vegetarians and are gluten-free.
Added vitamin C will help your body absorb the iron it needs from this product.
These are 100 percent made in the U.S. and are free from artificial preservatives and colorings. The dosage of these tablets is one a day, so with 90 in the bottle they should last three months.
- Many love the taste.
- Gentle on the stomach.
- Natural ingredients.
- Does not contain any added vitamins or folates.
5. Rainbow Light Iron Mini-Tabs
A small tablet that packs a punch with a high iron content sounds appealing. Taking just one tablet a day to deliver the requisite amount of iron you need could be just the ticket when you’re pregnant.
The food-based iron in these small tablets delivers 30 mg per single dose. They are gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Fig, prune, and raisin powders have been added to help digestion, and vitamin C aids absorption.
The company has been thoughtful in ensuring the packaging is BPA-free and completely recyclable. On top of this, all the ingredients are natural.
- Digestion friendly, with added ginger.
- Gentle on the stomach and bowels.
- Good value with 60 tabs per bottle.
- Some find the pills taste like grass.
Side Effects of Iron Supplements
Some of the common side effects associated with iron supplements include constipation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. I know, you already have enough to contend with when you’re pregnant without adding more to the mix.
If they make you feel sick, try not to take them on an empty stomach. You can keep constipation at bay by increasing your fluid and fiber intake.
If any side effects are bothersome, then speak to your healthcare provider for advice and support (14).
Iron Everything Out
Maintaining your health and that of your baby is vital during pregnancy. While you try to keep your diet as healthy as you can, there are times when you need help. Iron supplements might be a necessary component of your daily regimen.
Of the many that are available, our favorite is the Mega Food blood builder. Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and kosher, they contain the required iron content of 27 mg and vitamin C for absorption. The bonus of vitamin B12 and folates further helps your well-being as well as your baby’s.
We hope you enjoyed our guide to the best iron supplement for pregnancy and found it useful. Please leave us a comment and don’t forget to share with other moms-to-be so they can benefit too.