Iron deficiency anemia is common during pregnancy. Without enough iron, your body can't produce enough haemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. Anaemia (Medicine / Pathology) is defined as “a deficiency in the number of red blood cells or in their haemoglobin content, resulting in pallor, shortness of breath, and lack of energy.”
Did you know that during pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases until you have almost 50 percent more than usual?
You will need a significant amount of extra iron for your growing baby and placenta; having good iron levels is crucial during the third trimester where the foetus starts to store iron to use during the first six months of their life, before they start on solids.
After giving birth your iron stores will be reduced due to blood loss. It is important to keep levels high as, iron deficiency anemia is a contributing factor for mastitis (breast inflammation), low milk supply, blocked ducts, and delayed healing of sore nipples.
Non-pregnant women, require 18 mg of iron a day.
Pregnant women require 27 mg of iron a day.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective on Anaemia during Pregnancy
In traditional Chinese medicine, iron deficiency anaemia is usually diagnosed as a Qi (energy) & Blood deficiency. As your precious baby grows, there is a huge demand placed on your body to produce extra Qi and Blood.
The two main organs which produce Qi and blood in TCM is:
1. The *Spleen organ transforms food and fluid into Qi and Blood.
2. The Yin aspect of Kidney essence, which transforms into Blood.
Acupuncture can help to strengthen the function of the Spleen and Kidney, nourish the Blood and tonify the Qi, so you feel more energised and your baby's healthy development is promoted.
(*Please note when I refer to body organs with a Capital letter, I am talking in Chinese medicine terms, not the Western medicine framework.)
There are two types of iron in food:
1. Iron found in animal foods (haem iron)
2. Iron from plant foods (non-haem iron)
Foods sources high in iron:
Chlorophyll, found in dark leafy greens, seaweed and spirulina, benefits anaemic conditions and is sometimes referred to as “the blood of plant life” (Pitchford, p228, 2004).
Red-meat (kangaroo, beef, lamb) and the darker parts of meat on the chicken; the redder the meat, the higher the iron.
Eggs & seeds (chia, sesame, pumpkin), tahini
Nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts, pines nuts & hazelnuts)
Dried apricots (sulphur free) and cherries
Legumes, beans, sprouts, quinoa, tofu, tempe
Berries are great- goji, blackberries, dark grapes & raspberries.
Tips to Enhance your Iron Absorption:
1. Vitamin C helps your body absorb the non-heme (vegetarian) iron foods you eat.
2. Avoid tannins (tea, coffee, wine) as they decrease iron absorption.
3. Calcium also inhibits absorption, so try to eat any dairy products away from your delicious iron rich meals.
4. If you are suffering from heartburn during your pregnancy, and using Antacids for relief, please be aware they contain calcium. So if you use an iron supplement or have an iron rich meal, please take the Antacid two hours pre or post eating.
5. To increase your blood production and strengthen the Spleen, always try to eat warm, cooked, sauteed or steamed foods. Cold and raw foods impede the functioning of the Spleen and Stomach, therefore reducing blood production. Add some spices to aid digestion such as ginger, garlic, cumin, fennel and cardamon.
If you are suffering from pregnancy anaemia, I strongly encourage you to have some acupuncture treatments, in order to resolve your poor energy levels, ensure your immune system is not weakened and prevent future complications such as preterm labor or milk flow problems.