Iron deficiency: symptoms, effects and treatment

If you are (or have been) pregnant, you know how recurrent the subject of iron is during pregnancy. Yes, it is a mineral essential to our well-being, because it orchestrates the production of red blood cells and the proper functioning of the bone marrow. This mission is all the more vital for pregnant women, whose iron needs skyrocket to support pregnancy and fetal development. However, even if not everyone is subject to it, deficiency anemia remains common, and should not be neglected. What are the symptoms ? How to treat it? Come on, we tell you everything, here we go.

What is the role of iron in the human body?

Iron plays a crucial role in the proper functioning of our body, especially in pregnant women.

Why do we need iron?

Without iron, your body would not be able to produce enough healthy red blood cells. So we might as well tell you that it is a rather useful element for being in good health! It therefore plays an essential role in:

  • the transport of vital oxygen in your body;
  • the conversion of nutrients into energy.

During pregnancy, iron becomes even more important. It supports the healthy development of the fetus and placenta, but not only that! It also helps prevent iron deficiency anemia, a condition that can make pregnancy a little riskier.

How much iron do we need?

According to ANSES , iron needs differ depending on sex and periods of life:

  • approximately 11 mg / day in men and women who are postmenopausal or who have light bleeding ;
  • Approximately 16 mg / day in women who have heavy bleeding, who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Note that a normal diet provides between 10 and 15 mg of iron per day, of which only 5 to 10% will be absorbed by the body.

Iron deficiency, what are its symptoms?

Iron deficiency can manifest itself through a series of different symptoms:

  • Persistent fatigue that does not disappear with rest.
  • Pale skin and mucous membranes (revealing low hemoglobin levels).
  • Shortness of breath, even after light efforts.
  • A faster heart rate (because it compensates for the lack of oxygen)
  • Feelings of dizziness.

In some people, iron deficiency can cause other signs such as:

  • brittle nails;
  • hair loss;
  • headaches ;

These symptoms may be more concerning for pregnant women, as they affect their own health, but also that of their unborn child.

How to diagnose iron deficiency?

To diagnose iron deficiency, your doctor will generally order a clinical assessment with a specific blood test to measure different indicators linked to your iron level.

What do we measure through this blood test? Several factors, including your hemoglobin content: a low level can indicate an iron deficiency. This assessment is characterized by several blood tests, such as the determination of the ferritin level or that of serum ferritin.

If they are low, there is no doubt: your iron reserves are exhausted. We can then recommend the most appropriate treatment to correct this iron deficiency anemia.

What are the most common causes of iron deficiency?

Common causes in women

One of the most common causes of iron deficiency in women between puberty and menopause is heavy periods. If blood loss is particularly intense, the diet becomes an insufficient source of iron, leaving the body with empty reserves.

Because yes, sometimes the diet is no longer able to compensate for the lack of iron. If it is of animal origin, it will be better absorbed by the body than if it is of plant origin. So if you are a vegetarian diet team, plan it well to avoid deficits.

Causes specific to pregnancy

Pregnancy leads to a significant increase in iron requirements, necessary for the development of the fetus and placenta... but also for increasing the volume of red blood cells in the mother. It must therefore strengthen its iron reserves with rich and varied foods, at the risk of developing a higher deficiency.

How to treat iron deficiency?

By adapting your diet

To boost your iron intake and your red blood cell count, choose products of animal origin such as:

  • Red meat ;
  • Poultry ;
  • Fish.

Are you vegetarian? No problem, there are plenty of plant-based sources of iron:

  • legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, etc.);
  • nuts ;
  • dark chocolate (yum!);
  • green leafy vegetables.

We advise you to always combine these foods with sources of vitamin C, as it is known to improve iron absorption.

With supplements

If your diet does not allow you to overcome the lack of iron, your doctor may possibly recommend food supplements. However, many pregnant women have difficulty following their treatment to the end, because these tablets can cause stomach pain and constipation. Except that THE time when they are most likely to be anemic is at the end of pregnancy! Potential internal bleeding during childbirth could then prove dramatic.

If you use our pregnancy vitamins , take care to take them away from your supplements. Because mixed with other ingredients, iron oxidizes certain molecules and can reduce their effects. It is recommended to take the vitamins in the morning and the iron treatment in the evening.

Are you pregnant and don't know where to start in terms of vitamins? Find out how to choose the right pregnancy vitamins.


In cases of severe anemia or when oral supplements are not well tolerated, intravenous supplementation may be considered. This method allows for a rapid increase in ferritin levels in the body. It is generally reserved for situations where intestinal absorption is compromised. Or when you need to quickly replenish iron reserves, particularly when preparing for surgery.

Concluding on the importance of iron in our body means emphasizing the vital role that red blood cells and bone marrow play for our health. Especially if you are pregnant! Iron deficiency, although common, can have serious consequences on your well-being and that of your future child. But with a balanced diet, the right supplements and, in certain cases, specific medical treatment... You will maintain solid iron stocks for a successful pregnancy and crazy energy!

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