Nutrition in Pregnancy: Iron-Rich Foods

A healthy hemoglobin is important for everyone, but is particularly important in pregnancy. Hemoglobin is what makes it possible for your red blood cells to deliver oxygen to your tissues, and during pregnancy, this job is even more demanding, because you are growing another person. Low hemoglobin can cause fatigue, weakness, malaise and irritability. It can also be associated with an increased risk of postpartum hemorrhage. Postpartum recovery and establishing a plentiful milk supply can be easier if we have a nice, healthy hemoglobin to carry us through the blood loss that happens with birth.

During the course of your prenatal care, we typically test hemoglobin three times – in the first trimester, at around 28 weeks, and again shortly before delivery, to make certain that hemoglobin levels are in a safe range for home birth. It is quite common to need to increase a person’s hemoglobin, and the way to do that is to boost iron in the diet with foods and/or supplements.

The first line of defense for mild iron-deficiency anemia is to introduce many more iron-rich foods into your daily diet. To follow are some of our favorite recommendations:

Heme Iron From animal sources

If you eat meat, this is choice #1, because your body most readily absorbs heme iron. Quality red meats, beef or chicken liver, clams, mussels, oysters and sardines contain between 2.1 and 3.5 milligrams of iron per serving. Other meat sources are great too, but contain lesser amounts of iron.

Beans and tofu

One serving of cooked beans or tofu also contains between 2.1 and 3.5 milligrams of iron per serving. Beans are an excellent source of fiber, so we suggest adding them to your meals whenever possible.

Blackstrap molasses

Yum! This is reminding me to buy some molasses. It’s so delicious, and contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. Believe it or not, this nutritious byproduct of the sugar-refining process contains 3 mg of iron per tablespoon.

Green Vegetables

Spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, etc. are all good sources of iron. The iron from vegetables is most easily absorbed if it is cooked – and you consume a higher volume of greens if they’ve been wilted through cooking, so it’s a win win.


One whole egg contains .6 milligrams of iron. Scramble them with some spinach for an extra iron boost.


One serving of pumpkin, sesame, squash or chia seeds contain around 2.1 milligrams of iron. Seeds are also super nutrient-dense, so again – add them to something every day.


One ounce of peanuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, almonds or cashews contain around .7 milligrams of iron. Nuts are full or good fats and fiber, so a handful every day is good for general nutrition.

Dried fruits

Dried apricots, peaches, prunes and raisins all contain between .7 and 2.1 milligrams of iron per cup, as well as fiber. Keep in mind that dried fruits also contain a lot of sugar, so enjoy in moderation.

There are many other ways to get more iron into your diet, including eating enriched foods, whole grains, etc. And here are a couple of important things to remember in terms of iron absorption:

  • Calcium can inhibit iron absorption, so make sure to consume dairy products and calcium-containing supplements and medications separately from your iron foods.
  • Vitamin C can aid iron absorption, so consuming oranges, lemons, limes, melons or strawberries alongside your iron foods is a great combo.

In the event that hemoglobin levels still remain low even with extra effort in the iron-rich foods department, a food-based iron supplement may be warranted. Our clients often use Hema-Plex, Blood Builder or Floridix, with great results.