Guest blogger, Dr. Erica Zelfand is an integrative family physician, medical writer, and teacher. Dr. Zelfand provides primary care to both children and adults, with special interests in pediatrics, endocrinology, autoimmune conditions, and digestive health. You can learn more on her website: www.naturaintegrative.com
Last week I was having lunch with a dear friend who is in her 38th week of pregnancy. While she was telling me about her plans for the birth. She. Began. Talking. Like this. With little. Gasps. And. Pauses. Between. Words.
“What’s up with your breathing?” I asked her.
“I’m. Just a little. Uncomfortable. The baby. Is big. And I. Am a small woman,” she huffed.
“I think you should ask your midwife to screen you for anemia.”
“Don’t. Be silly. I’m fine.”
“Just humor me.”
A woman’s blood volume doubles during pregnancy to meet the demands of both mama and baby. Even with women who eat red meat and other iron-rich animal products, it’s relatively common for pregnant women (especially vegetarians) to become anemic. Some signs of anemia to watch out for include:
- Catching your breathing while talking
- Chewing on ice
- The urge to eat chalk, clay, or other non-food items
- Pale or white lips
- Paler complexion than usual
- Fatigue (but it seems like everything causes that!)
When it comes to getting iron from the diet, there are two forms: heme iron, and non-heme iron.
- Heme iron is the form of iron found in red meat, liver, chicken, and other animal products. The iron content of these foods is easily absorbed from the gut and dumped directly into the blood stream.
- Non-heme iron, which is found in iron supplements and in foods like black strap molasses, spinach, and enriched cereals, is not as easily absorbed. Non-heme iron must first be bound to a “transporter” protein called transferrin before it can pass through the gut wall. From there it is shuttled to the liver, and from the liver into the blood stream. This means that of the non-heme iron eaten, only some of it actually ends up in the blood stream. This is why many pregnant women find themselves craving red meat, even if they thought it was disgusting prior to becoming pregnant.
Oh, and my friend? She texted me a photo of her blood test results a couple of days ago. I spared her the I-told-you-so.