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The Challenge to Increase Iron Levels During Pregnancy!

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.

I didn’t actually gave it too much thought at that point, so when my gynae said that all’s good – i’m 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 third 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. Then comes another bag of supplements to take again, in addition to the rest! *Grrrr*

Iron pills and Fish Oil for preggers
Iron pills.. newly added to the cocktail of supplements to take every day.

Iron and constipation: my pregnancy struggles

2 weeks later, a re-test was done. And 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, the iron pills 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?

Surprise, surprise! The nurse actually shared some tips on what I could possibly try to take. It seems I’m not exactly absorbing the iron well, so she recommended red dates drink, to help nourish the blood.

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

Ingredients:
7 pieces of red dates (can purchase from Eu Yan Sang or other medical halls)
1litre boiled water

Steps:
1) 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…
2) Pour boiled water into the slow cooker and add washed red dates.
3) 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.

Steps to make Red Date Drink
Hoping to boost iron levels during pregnancy with this drink! And it worked for my first pregnancy! :D

That was easy, right?

**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 double dosage of iron pills, and it’s not something I’m looking forward especially since constipation and haemorrhoids are knocking on my door once more :(

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 round, here’s what I’ll be dousing myself with:

Red Dates, Wolfberries and Dang Shen Drink

Ingredients:
10 pieces of red dates, slit
1 tbsp wolfberries
1 strip of Dang Shen, sliced
1 bowl of boiled water

Steps:
1) Wash all ingredients and place into the slow cooker with water.
2) 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.

boost iron levels during pregnancy

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 an 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 are also related to low iron levels.

And a retest was done, and I’m happy to share that my iron levels are boosted to 12.9! YAY!!

What’s so great about red dates?

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.

Red dates from Eu Yan Sang
It says Ji Xin Zao on the packet – these are the red dates I’ve gotten from Eu Yan Sang. Comes in a handy ziplock seal to keep them fresh in the fridge.

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

Cooked liver and Fish with Green Papaya Soup!
MIL prepared cooked Liver with Ginger in Brown Sauce and Fish with Green Papaya Soup! More about the soup in a separate article :)
  • Fruits: All berries, dried fruits including Prunes, Raisins and Apricots; Grapes, Grapefruit, Oranges, Plums, Prune juice, Watermelon
  • Legumes: Peas, Lentils, Soybeans
  • Breads & Cereals: Enriched rice and pasta, Soft pretzel, Whole grain and enriched or fortified breads 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.

**Important Tip!**

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.

Orange juice bursting with Vitamin C!
Orange juice bursting with Vitamin C helps our body to absorb iron more effectively!

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.. :(

Mummies and mums-to-be reading this, what have you tried to take to boost iron levels during pregnancy? Did they help bring the levels back to normal? Do share tips with us :)

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18 comments

  1. Perhaps you can consider a probiotic supplement. It greatly helped with my pregnancy constipation. Drinking lemon water first thing in the morning helps me too.

    1. Thank you, Jo! I’ve started taking probiotics too – recently tried LactoGG upon recommendation from a friend, and now switched to OpticBac (more affordable), but I haven’t had much luck in the bowels department either. LOL. Oh, lemon water sounds like a good idea – thanks for that! :)

  2. Hi there. My gynae told me to avoid beef when I was having haemorrhoids after delivery. Apparently it makes it worse.

    Btw may I know if this red date drink can only be made in slow cooker? I don’t own one and was wondering if a normal stove would work?

    1. Hello there! I had them too – super annoying! Hmm might be good to pay heed to ur Doctors advice :) Mine offered laxatives as constipation was an issue 😂
      Yes, this drink can be done over stove too – no problem at all! Just make sure to watch the fire n keep it at low fire so the liquids don’t dry out :) Take care!

  3. Hi, I am brewing your dang shen drink now… my blood count is way below the normal level and I am now on iron pills.
    I hope the blood count will improve…
    Will brew the red dates water to drink too. Thanks for your sharing

      1. Thank you… may I ask for the red dates drink, how many hours did u boil in the slower cooker?

      2. With the slow cooker, we put it overnight out of convenience. Before bedtime, place the ingredients and water in and set to ‘Auto’, but do make sure there’s enough water so it doesn’t dry out. In the morning, we’ll transfer it to a thermal flask to bring it to the office :) Hope this helps!

  4. Hello! Just wondering how often should we be drinking the red dates vs red dates + wolfberry + dang shen drink? Everyday? :|

    1. Hi CC! Sure, you can drink that everyday. I used to drink it in place of water to help with the low iron levels. It depends on yr preference too, how “intensive” you’d like to ;) Take care!

  5. How long after the first blood test and drinking this tonic did u do the retest? I am in a similar situation as u and desperate to stop the constipation. Thanks

    1. Hello Maria! If I remembered right, the test was done about a month+ after. Constipation was pretty bad, especially after delivery. Have you tried laxatives? My gynae prescribed some for me – i didnt take it consistently (and regret that! boohoo.), and would say, do try to get cleared before you’re due! All the best!

      1. Hi… No pregnant yet.. My gp said my iron and vit d levels are too low and wants to me to go on tablets.. .. The vit d ones are ok but like u say the iron tablets cause constipation. My levels are so low that I only have enough iron to keep me alive. The dang shen.. Can u write the characters in chinese cause my Mum is getting confused…

      2. Hello Maria, hope you’ve been well! Are there underlying health concerns with the discovery of low iron levels and Vitamin D? Do you experience any other symptoms that warrant a more thorough health check? I do hope these tables and herbs would help you too. Also, I would think the doctor would address them soonest with other other medical options in addition to diet.

        For Dang Shen (党参), we bought ours from Eu Yan Sang. They have those pre-packed ones and loose ones. Here’s the link and the description too: https://www.euyansang.com.sg/en/dangshen-888842535010.html

        Hope this helps. Take good care! :)

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