Iron-deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, and it isn't rare for pregnant women to encounter it. Studies also suggest a link between iron levels and fertility. Does that mean women who are trying to conceive need to take iron supplements?
Why is iron important while trying to conceive?
Research has suggested that women who take iron supplements are much less likely, statistically, to have ovulation problems. In fact, they have a 40 percent lower chance of having issues with the quality of their eggs. Women who take supplements of more than 42 mg daily actually reduce the risk by a grand total of 62 percent. This doesn't mean you will personally cut your risk by that much, since we're talking statistics. If you get pregnant, it is also important to have enough iron. You'll need more of it to supply your baby and its placenta, but you will also need more for yourself did you know that your blood volume increases by 50 percent when you are expecting? Severe iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight babies, preterm delivery, and even infant death. Iron intake is, in short, something to be very careful about.
How much iron do you need, and do you really need to take supplements?
Pregnant women need 27 mg of iron a day. Taking that much while you are trying to conceive makes sense, both due to the research into egg health and because you should live by the assumption that you could be pregnant at any time while you are trying to conceive. It is also quite important to keep in mind that there are two different kinds of iron. Non-heme iron is found in plant sources as well as meat, while heme iron is exclusively present in meat. The latter is easier to absorb by the body. Vegetarians may consider consuming more than the recommended dose of iron, because they'll only get non-heme iron.
Nutritional deficiencies like an iron-deficiency should be taken very seriously, but consider the possibility that you already get enough iron through your diet before purchasing a supplement. This is something that is best checked through a blood test, which you can make part of your regular preconception checkup. If you do have deficiencies in either minerals or vitamins, you may consider supplementing. Nutritional supplements are available over the counter to anyone, but it is good to remember that they do come with some side effects, and that it is very important to consider the appropriate dosage carefully. Having a blood test therefore offers another distinct advantage. You will be able to discuss supplementation with your family doctor they will know which supplements are best, and how much to take.
It is not impossible to boost your iron levels through iron-rich foods like leafy greens, eggs, dried apricots, lima beans, raisins and meat at all though, and those who only have mild iron deficiencies should certainly consider going that road. Here's why: iron from food sources is more easily absorbed by your body, and does not give you the same side effects that artificial supplements can (think constipation).
Those women who do not get enough iron in their regular diet can look into ways to incorporate more iron-rich foods into their meals. We have written a bunch of posts on that very topic. Will "supplementing" by changing your diet work, and actually boost your iron levels? Absolutely, but there is nothing wrong with following up by having another blood test later on, again in consultation with your doctor.
Trying to conceive you'll need a balanced diet
When it comes to discussing nutrients for fertility and pregnancy, iron often finds itself at the top of the list. Iron is a mineral that certainly deserves a lot of attention, but it isn't the only nutrient that needs to be looked at. Folic acid, a B vitamin that works toward preventing neural tube defects in newly-conceived babies, is another one that you should look at. Most women supplement so they know they are receiving the recommended daily amount, but looking for folate-rich foods is a good step as well.
Women and men who are trying to have a baby need to take a critical look at their whole lifestyle, and diet needs special attention. The chances are that your diet is less than ideal, just like it is for most other people. The best way to ensure a well-balanced diet that includes foods from all important food groups every day is to eat home-cooked meals prepared from scratch.