Pregnancy puts women through different tests (we don’t just mean physical ones!) and somewhere around the third month, a blood test is done to test for sugar levels, iron levels etc, just to make sure things are looking good for the new mum. That’s also when I was faced with the question – how to increase iron levels during pregnancy.
I didn’t actually give it too much thought at that point, so when my gynae said that all’s good – I was happy! Until my visit at the 32nd week that she arranged for an iron level test to be done, just to make sure it’s a-ok at the 3rd trimester.
That nerve-wracking iron test for pregnant mums
I’ve asked around, but other friends did not go through it during this stage of their pregnancies; it’s more of a routine step for my gynae so it may differ from doctors to doctors too. Unfortunately, for me, my iron level fell quite abit. From 11.6 (the healthy level is 12) during the first trimester, to 9.5 now. I was given another bag of supplements to take again, in addition to the rest! *Grrrr*
Iron and constipation: my pregnancy struggles
2 weeks later, a re-test was done. But, guess what? It dipped minutely to 9.4 despite the pills! Oh the horror, having to battle with constipation was bad enough, now another headache?!
Just to clarify, I was prescribed with the iron pills that were supposed to be less-constipation-inducing (according to the nurse, lesser complaints LOL), since I was already plagued with bowel movement issues before pregnancy, and during pregnancy, it got a little worse.
So how now, brown cow??
How to increase iron levels during pregnancy, during breastfeeding and beyond?
Surprise, surprise! The nurse actually shared some tips on what I could possibly try to take. It seems my body is not exactly absorbing the iron from pills well, so she recommended Red Dates Drink. Drinking this every day would help to nourish the blood and improve the low iron levels.
The other method was to slice pig’s liver into strips, run it under boiling water to cook them and (listen, listen!) DRINK THE BLOODY WATER @.@ – Excuse the pun, but hey! Liver parts are not exactly good-good. They break down food in the animals’ systems and OMG, no way was I gonna drink that red fluid -_-
My dear Hub diligently prepared the red dates water for me with our newly-bought slow cooker and I was to drink it like how water should be guzzled throughout the day. It’s a really simple recipe!
Do note that prior to taking herbs or starting on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), kindly consult your gynaecologist or doctors for advice and go-ahead. Also, everyone’s body constitution is different – what works for one, might not necessarily work for another.
Red Dates Drink Recipe
- 7 pieces of red dates (I usually purchase them from Eu Yan Sang or Hock Hua or other medical halls in the neighbourhood)
- 1litre boiled water
- Wash red dates and cut slits to allow their sweetness to be released during cooking. Read about someone’s mum who said to cut exactly 7 snips.. not too sure about that though…
- Pour boiled water into the slow cooker and add washed red dates.
- Set to low and leave to boil overnight. In the morning, turn off the slow cooker, use a ladle to scoop out the drink and pour into a thermal flask.
*note that a bigger slow cooker was used for this recipe.
That was easy, right? There IS hope for those of us who are in the battle of wondering how to increase iron levels so we would be less tired, don’t feel faint, and gain better overall wellbeing!
**Update on Dec 2015:
Now with our 2nd baby baking in the oven, I’m yet again plagued by low iron levels. This time, the report says 9.7, and my gynae has once again reminded me that the healthy level should be 12.
I was advised to take a double dosage of iron pills, and it’s not something I’m looking forward to, especially since constipation and haemorrhoids are knocking on my door with a vengeance this time around! :(
Since we’ve got some wolfberries and Dang Shen in the fridge, it’s time to brew my special iron-boosting concoction once again. This time, here’s what I’ll be dousing myself in a bid to boost my iron levels!
If you’re like me, struggling with the poor iron test results and are wondering how to increase iron levels and get them to the healthy mark, you can give these recipes a go!
Red Dates, Wolfberries and Dang Shen Drink
- 10 pieces of red dates, slit
- 1 tbsp wolfberries
- 1 strip of Dang Shen, sliced
- 1 bowl of boiled water
- Wash all ingredients and place into the slow cooker with water.
- Set to Auto and allow to brew for 4 hours or more. Once ready, you may pour into a thermal flask for the day, as above.
*note that a smaller slow cooker was used for this recipe.
Trying different ways to get that iron boost!
So, why am I trying a new recipe this time?
In fact, I’ve done a pregnancy tonics soup using the same ingredients plus black chicken. The soup was really yummy!
But on a regular basis, drinking black chicken every day might seem overkill, so I’ve added wolfberries (rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C; very important for iron absorption!) and Dang Shen to improve immunity and reduce fatigue, which is also related to low iron levels.
And a retest was done about a month later, and I’m happy to share that my iron levels have shot up to 12.9! YAY!!
What’s so great about red dates for those with low iron?
Apparently, they contain 70 to 80 times more Vitamin C than grapes and apples, red dates also abound with Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron and magnesium. Additionally, they are known to enrich and nourish blood! Read more here.
Why is iron essential for pregnant and breastfeeding mums?
Well, since pregnant and lactating (breastfeeding) women need at least 30mg of iron a day, it may not be as easy as it seems to get that magic number through food alone. Iron makes up an important part of haemoglobin, the substance in the blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. Therefore, it is important to consume more iron while you are pregnant to ensure that you and your baby are getting enough oxygen.
Iron also helps you avoid symptoms of tiredness, weakness, irritability, and depression. Iron-rich food is split into heme sources and non-heme sources; or more generally, meat or vegetable type respectively. Apparently, heme sources absorb better than non-heme ones, so if you’re like me, with the objective to load up on iron, go for the meats!
Here are some food sources to weave into the different meals within a day. Of course, always remember to eat in moderation!
Meat & Seafood: Lean, Beef, Chicken, Clams, Crab, Egg yolk, Fish, Lamb, Liver (make sure they are fully cooked as semi-undone ones hold the risk of bacteria just like sashimi), Oysters, Pork, Sardines, Shrimp, Turkey, Veal, Duck
- Fruits: All berries, dried fruits including Prunes, Raisins and Apricots; Grapes, Grapefruit, Oranges, Plums, Prune juice, Watermelon
- Legumes: Peas, Lentils, Soybeans
- Bread & Cereals: Enriched rice and pasta, Soft pretzel, Whole grain and enriched or fortified bread and cereals
- Vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Collard, Turnip, Beans, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach
- Other Foods: Molasses, Peanuts, Peanut Butter, Pine Nuts, Pumpkin or Squash Seeds
As you see, this iron-rich diet is not just for pregnant and nursing mothers, but just about anyone who is fighting anaemia, or would like an iron-boost. Find out what additional nutrients breastfeeding mamas need!
**Important Tip to boost iron levels**
AVOID consuming calcium products or supplements together with iron pills/iron-rich food. Calcium inhibits the absorption of iron. For the same reason, avoid coffee and tea too.
Iron’s best friend is actually VITAMIN C! So when you’re taking those iron pills, down them with a cup of orange juice, as they help to enhance absorption. That’s why red dates and wolfberries are in this iron-boosting recipe! :P
Right now, I’m still trying to up my iron intake via meals in addition to the daily supplements. It does seem a little tough. I mean, how often do we get to eat red meat like beef and duck? Just as I was hopeful in trying to improve the constipation issue by taking yoghurt… Oh well… Hopefully, the levels get back to normal soon. Wouldn’t want any blood transfusion during birthing man.. :(
Some of us might have an iron deficiency, and that should be addressed by a doctor to help with your condition.
Are you wondering how to increase iron levels in your body or for someone you know? What have you tried to boost low iron levels during pregnancy? Do share tips with us :)