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Why Iron is Important for Pregnancy and Growth

Despite the fact that iron is the 4th most common element on the planet, many pregnant women and young children do not get the recommended amount.  Iron rich foods are very important because they help to build healthy blood.  Many people are not aware of all the consequences that can come from not getting enough iron, especially during pregnancy and children up to age 5.  In fact, not having enough iron can lead to irreversible affects, even if you are treated later one for it.

Iron deficiency is the nutrient disorder that comes from not having enough iron in your blood.  Iron is essential for healthy blood because it is responsible for helping to carrying around oxygen in the body.  We all know that when someone is drowning and their body little by little is losing oxygen, they still have a chance to live without serious consequences depending on how long they were under water.  However, the smallest amount of time during pregnancy or infancy when the body is operating on less oxygen can have negative affects.  Below is a list of what can happen when you don’t get enough iron in your body:

• You can get anemia which is a condition when your red blood cells don’t get enough oxygen and they start to affect your daily activities.
• You can become very weak, tired, or even grouchy.
• You will usually start to get sick easier like catching the cold more often.
• You will look very pale in the face, which is a reflection of how you will feel as well.
• Young children can be very fussy and have serious problems growing and learning if iron is low in the body for years at a time.
• In pregnancy, a woman who is lacking a lot of iron will inhibit the unborn baby from growing to its desired weight and length.  A baby who is born very small could have health and cognitive development problems in the future.
• Children who lack iron usually cannot pay attention in school and are more likely to experience behavioral problems.  Both of these things usually go undetected because no parent thinks to themselves “Oh, I got a call from his teacher today saying he got into trouble…maybe it’s because he doesn’t have enough iron.”

All of these consequences can be prevented by making sure to get enough iron into your diet.  In most cases, the foods that have protein will also have iron like meats.  But also you will find that foods like vegetables and grains will also carry iron or be fortified with iron.  For example, spinach as a vegetable and cereal as a grain.  Below are some tips to make sure you get enough iron in your diet daily.

• Eat at least 3 meals daily with different kinds of foods.
• Cut down on foods like cake, cookies, pop, candy, and chips.  They do not contain very many essential nutrients, if any, and should only be consumed once in a while.
• If you are pregnant, be sure to take your prenatal vitamin daily because it will contain the additional iron you will need to grow a healthy baby AND take care of yourself in the process.  Also, even if you have a good diet, it’s good to take the prenatal vitamin anyway because a lot of times we don’t absorb all the iron available in the food anyway.
• Wean children from the bottle at 1 year or earlier.  Children who still use the bottle usually drink far too much milk after one year.  Limit milk to just 2 cups a day.  Also, milk can interfere with iron because calcium usually prohibits the body from taking out iron from digested food.
• Avoid drinking coffee and tea with your meals.  These beverages, like milk, also diminish the body’s ability to absorb iron.
• Eat meats like beef, fish, pork, and chicken at least 4 times a week.
• If you are vegetarian, a part from taking a vitamin daily, you should eat foods like fortified cereals, lentils, dried beans and peas, broccoli, raisins, and spinach and mustard greens to get your iron.  Be sure to eat some sort of fruit or drink some juice when eating these foods because they will help you absorb the iron in these plant-type foods better.  Oranges work well for this or any 100% juice is fine.

Now if your iron levels are low, it can usually take a month to get back up to normal levels.   However, if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above during pregnancy or if you feel your child is possibly anemic because they won’t eat much meat and don’t like veggies, be sure to have a quick test done with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
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