Iron deficiency in pregnancy: the most important questions and answers

Eisenmangel in der Schwangerschaft: Die wichtigsten Fragen und Antworten

We cannot live without iron. The trace element is essential for survival, both for pregnant women and for every single person. It is the carrier of oxygen in our blood. In fact, iron deficiency is the most common deficiency disease worldwide and women of childbearing age and during pregnancy are particularly affected.

This article is intended to give you an understanding of the essential functions of iron, as well as the causes and consequences of iron deficiency. In the further course of this article you will receive valuable tips on how to successfully treat an iron deficiency during pregnancy and what precautionary measures you can take to avoid an iron deficiency.

the essentials in brief

  • Iron deficiency is not a rare disease, especially in pregnant women, since the mother has to provide herself and her child with the trace element.
  • An undersupply of iron can lead to deficiency symptoms and physical complaints such as tiredness, metabolic problems and difficulty concentrating.
  • If an insufficient iron balance is determined, this can be compensated for with a change in diet or suitable food supplements.

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Definition: What does iron deficiency mean during pregnancy?

Iron is a vital trace element in the human body because it helps transport oxygen in the blood. Since pregnant women have to provide two living beings with the important element, it is not uncommon for pregnant women to suffer from an iron deficiency. About every third pregnant woman is affected by an iron deficiency. (2)

An iron deficiency is also referred to as anemia or anaemia, since the number of red blood cells decreases due to the disturbed oxygen transport.

Background: What you should know about iron deficiency during pregnancy

Before we give you tips on how to treat and prevent iron deficiency during pregnancy, you should learn some useful information about this metal.

In the following paragraphs we would like to give you brief answers to frequently asked questions on this topic.

What is the role of iron in the body?

It is not possible without iron in the body. Because iron is a vital transporter and storage element for oxygen. The oxygen that you take in through your lungs is bound thanks to the iron in the red blood cells in the body and transported to the individual cells of the body.

In addition, the red blood cells and our blood get their red color because of the iron.

But iron can do a lot more, because it makes us efficient, energetic and also keeps our hair, skin and nails healthy. In addition, our body needs iron for the formation of each new cell, especially the nerve cells.

eating toddler

An iron-rich diet is particularly important for newborns and young children because it plays a major role in brain development. (Image Source: yalehealth/pixabay)

What is the daily requirement of iron during pregnancy?

In general, it can be said that the daily iron requirement for women is around 15 mg iron and for men a requirement of around 10 mg is necessary. Women of childbearing age need more iron than men because of their menstrual periods.

Looking specifically at the iron requirements of pregnant women, it can be seen that pregnant women need twice as much iron as non-pregnant women of the same age. Even while breastfeeding, the daily iron requirement of 20mg is even higher than normal. (6)

life stage Daily iron requirement
Children (1-10 years) 8-10mg
pregnant women 30mg
breastfeeding women 20mg
Adults (50+ years) 10mg

With the different phases of life, the daily iron requirement naturally also changes. Children aged 1-10 years need about 8-10mg of iron per day. Even in old age, the need for women and men remains similar, because people over 50 years of age also need around 10mg of iron every day. (6)

What are the causes of iron deficiency in pregnancy?

Since two living things have to be supplied with the necessary iron requirements during pregnancy, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers are particularly at risk of iron deficiency.

Pregnancy itself is one of the most common causes of iron deficiency in women.

Due to the development of the newborn in the womb, the increase in blood volume in the woman's body and the supply to the umbilical cord, the iron requirement of pregnant women increases. If this increased requirement cannot be compensated for by an iron-rich diet, it is not uncommon for an iron deficiency to occur during pregnancy.

The iron stores should also be well stocked before pregnancy, so that iron deficiency does not develop further during pregnancy. Since the loss of blood and thus iron is normal during childbirth, women who are about to give birth should pay particular attention to good iron levels in order to be able to recover more quickly from the birth.

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency during pregnancy?

As soon as your body gets too little iron and can no longer draw on its iron stores, an iron deficiency occurs. This iron deficiency during pregnancy can affect the whole body. The following table shows you which symptoms give you reason to consider an iron deficiency.

central nervesystem Iron deficiency can lead to reduced concentration and performance, along with tiredness and dizziness.
metabolism Possible signs may also include muscle wasting and loss of appetite.
appearance You look beaten and your skin is paler than usual, your fingernails may also be brittle, you notice more hair loss than usual and cracked corners of your mouth.
immune system Iron deficiency can also reduce the immune system and is reflected in a higher risk of susceptibility to infections.

From this you can see that there is a whole range of symptoms of iron deficiency, which do not all have to occur at the same time, but can only appear occasionally.

How is an iron deficiency diagnosed?

Based on the symptoms mentioned, you can draw initial conclusions as to whether your symptoms during pregnancy are related to iron deficiency. If you think you might have an iron deficiency, your gynecologist can determine your iron levels using a blood count.

Since iron deficiency during pregnancy is not abnormal, your iron levels will be measured and documented during the check-ups by your gynecologist. In order to be able to reliably determine an iron deficiency, the hemoglobin value (Hb value) in your blood is measured in grams per deciliter. (9)

If your hemoglobin and red blood cell count are below normal levels, your gynecologist will most likely give you iron supplements. In very critical cases, an iron or blood transfusion may also be necessary to compensate for the low iron level.

What are the consequences of iron deficiency during pregnancy?

Since iron is vital for the human body, care should be taken, especially during pregnancy, to ensure that both mother and child have enough iron available. Therefore, expectant mothers should be aware that the need for iron is higher during pregnancy.

In addition to the symptoms that both pregnant women and men and women suffer due to iron deficiency, critical cases can even lead to anemia. Because without iron in the body, not enough blood cells can be formed.

Iron deficiency has various short- and long-term consequences for both expectant mothers and their newborns.

However, especially during pregnancy, additional blood cells are needed so that the baby and the placenta can grow healthily. It is also known that iron deficiency during pregnancy can lead to complications and lead to premature birth and a lower birth weight. (5)

Hectic lifestyle? No problem!

With our Sundt iron capsules + vitamin C you can:

  • keep your energy levels high on the most stressful days
  • be sure you are getting enough iron
  • It's also vegan
  • automatically get a 21% discount if you buy now*

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*The discount is automatically applied to the product

What are the consequences of iron deficiency during pregnancy on a newborn?

Of course, iron deficiency during pregnancy does not only affect the mother and the course of the pregnancy. The newborn in particular can suffer from limitations if the mother's iron balance is not balanced.

Because sufficient iron in the mother's body increases the birth weight of the baby. In fact, women who are not iron deficient have fewer preterm births (3). If necessary, iron supplements can also help.

Insufficient brain development may also occur in the newborn. The body needs iron to produce the hormone thyroid. This hormone is responsible for the good development of the baby, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy. Therefore, iron and blood levels should be checked early in pregnancy.

Because compared to mothers who do not have anemia during pregnancy and mothers who already have an iron deficiency in early pregnancy, the risk of mental retardation in the child is doubled. The risk of an autistic disease in the newborn also increases. (4).

Do iron supplements also have advantages in women with normal blood values?

Since women usually need more iron than men, it can sometimes make sense to improve your iron balance by taking additional iron supplements. However, you should do this in consultation with your family doctor or if such preparations are recommended, after evaluating your blood count.

You should not take iron supplements without consulting your doctor.

In the first step, however, you should pay attention to a balanced and healthy diet, as this can usually eliminate all iron deficits and prevent you from taking food supplements.

Because if you consume too large a quantity of iron supplements without prior consultation, this can also have negative consequences for you and be harmful. Because excess iron then accumulates in important body organs such as the liver or heart. All in all, if your blood values are normal and you have no symptoms, you should not take iron supplements without thinking twice.

Iron deficiency in pregnancy: The best approaches to treatment and prevention

To avoid a possible iron deficiency during pregnancy, you can take some preventive and supplementary measures.

These will be described in more detail in the following paragraphs.

Iron rich diet

Above all, a balanced and healthy diet can spare you annoying symptoms of iron deficiency during pregnancy. Certain foods can help you to replenish your iron stores, which should be consumed more during pregnancy.

In the following list we show you which different foods are beneficial for an iron-rich diet.

  1. Meats and Sausages: Lean red meat, black pudding, beef, and pork
  2. Fish: Oysters, sardines in oil and pollock
  3. Vegetables: Soybeans, lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, spinach, peas, broccoli and mushrooms
  4. Cereals and cereal products: wheat germ, millet flakes, oat flakes, rye bread, wheat flour and rusks
  5. Nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts
  6. Eggs and Dairy Products : Egg yolks, eggs and soy milkTo further absorb the iron, you should drink orange juice with your meals. (8th)
meat dish

When it comes to food, it should be noted that iron from meat is better utilized than iron from plant-based foods. (Image Source: RitaE / pixabay)

taking iron supplements

However, women and especially pregnant women do not always manage to regulate their iron requirements solely through a conscious diet. If this is the case, iron deficiency in pregnant women will be detected during regular check-ups.

If iron supplements are taken in good time, the typical symptoms disappear.

During pregnancy, expectant mothers may be prescribed iron supplements to prevent anemia, even if their blood levels are normal. In any case, an additional intake of iron should be discussed with the family doctor or gynecologist.

Because it has been proven that daily oral supplementation, i.e. supplementing the iron balance, reduces the risk of maternal anemia and iron deficiency during pregnancy. (1) Iron supplements are best taken on an empty stomach or 30 minutes before or 2 hours after a meal.

Iron deficiency quick test

There are also quick tests you can take at home that you can use to diagnose an iron deficiency. The same principle applies as with a pregnancy test and the test gives you a reliable result within a short time.

If the test result is really positive and your blood values are no longer in the normal range, then you should contact a doctor to have the reasons for the deficiency determined. If necessary, the doctor will prescribe suitable iron supplements for you.


As described in the sections above, iron deficiency during pregnancy should never be underestimated. Symptoms such as listlessness, tiredness and brittle nails are the first signs to consider an iron deficiency. Since every mother only wants the best for herself and her baby, it is advisable to have an iron-rich and balanced diet and to regularly check the iron balance. Because infants of iron-treated mothers have a higher and better iron value. (10)

Of course, you should not take iron supplements without prior consultation and only on suspicion. But once a deficiency has been identified, supplemental iron intake can have a significant effect on the mother's well-being and positively influence the child's development for both the mother and the newborn.


  1. Pe簽a-Rosas JP, De-Regil LM, Garcia-Casal MN, Dowswell T. Daily oral iron supplementation during pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(7):CD004736. Published 2015 Jul 22. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004736.pub5 Source
  2. VVeltri F, Decaillet S, Kleynen P, et al. Prevalence of thyroid autoimmunity and dysfunction in women with iron deficiency during early pregnancy: is it altered?. Eur J Endocrinol. 2016;175(3):191-199. doi:10.1530/EJE-16-0288 source
  3. Ute Eppinger, Iron substitution in pregnancy: Clearly positive for the newborn (2013) Source
  4. Wiegersma AM, Dalman C, Lee BK, Karlsson H, Gardner RM. Association of Prenatal Maternal Anemia With Neurodevelopmental Disorders [published online ahead of print, 2019 Sep 18]. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(12):1-12. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.2309 Source
  5. Scholl TO, Hediger ML, Fischer RL, Shearer JW. Anemia vs iron deficiency: increased risk of preterm delivery in a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992;55(5):985-988. doi:10.1093/ajcn/ 55.5.985Source
  6. German Society for Nutrition. Iron. Published April 25, 2018 Source
  7. Consumer Center. Eisen: Quality not quantity is the question. Published April 25, 2018. Accessed April 25, 2018. Source
  8. University hospital Freiburg. Iron in the blood important for your performance. Accessed April 25, 2018. Source
  9. C. Breymann, T. Romer, and JW Dudenhausen. Treatment of Iron Deficiency in Women (2013 Mar; 73(3): 256-261) Source
  10. Milman N, Agger AO, Nielsen OJ. Iron supplementation during pregnancy. Effect on iron status markers, serum erythropoietin and human placental lactogen. A placebo controlled study in 207 Danish women. Dan Med Bull. 1991;38(6):471-476. Source
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