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Increasing Iron – Pregnancy Fun!

After my 28 week midwife check up on Tuesday, I received a phone call to tell me that my HB levels were low.

Low. I don’t know how low or what this means as I didnt get a call from a medical professional who wanted to discuss this with me. I just had a message from a receptionist with the ‘update’ and notification that a doctor had left me a prescription for iron tablets (Ferrous Sulphate) at the surgery.

Is it me or is this really bad practice? I haven’t met this doctor before, she knows nothing about my pregnancy, any related ailments I have or my feelings on medication. She hasn’t explained my levels to me or what they mean but she has prescribed me tablets that by all accounts are likely to leave me with some horrible side effects and feeling generally yuk. She also feels it’s appropriate to do this and ask somebody with no medical training or ability to answer my queries to notify me, like it is a done deal and I should just do as I’m told.

As you can probably sense, I won’t just be doing as I’m told without research and consultation!

I am not against medication but I am against not being able to ask questions that enable me to weigh up the pros and con’s for myself. I am having a Whooping Cough jab on Monday so will be asking the nurse to provide me with more information about my levels then which will enable me to make a fully informed decision.

I have however in the meantime contacted my midwife plus two private midwifes I have done Natal Hypnotherapy with, all of whom have said my levels are very unlikely to be at a stage (especially as I’m suffering no symptoms) where I cannot try and control them through diet initially and then if necessary resort to medication later.

They also provided me with the following advice;

– It is normal and healthy for HB to go down as pregnancy progresses, especially once in the third trimester.

– You aren’t at any greater risk of having a big blood loss if your iron level is low, it is just that if you do, you won’t cope with it as well.

– Side effects of Iron tablets are common and can include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn and nausea.

– Taking spatone twice a day will improve your levels as will increasing iron rich foods in your diet. Red meat, poultry, leafy green veg, beans, pulses, dried fruit, eggs, fortified wholegrain cereals and bread plus include lots of vitamin C rich foods/drinks with meals as this helps iron absorption. 

– Avoid drinking tea around meal times as tannin blocks iron from being absorbed.

– Avoid high levels of caffeine, calcium, wholegrain cereals (although wholegrains are a good source of iron themselves, they contain phytic acid, which can stop your body absorbing iron if too much is consumed) and soya as all can prevent effective iron absorption.

– Vitamin B12 is also needed to absorb Iron, not in your gut at the same time like with Vitamin C but to make chemicals that are part of the Iron uptake process (i.e. you can have it anytime in the day). It’s in dairy, eggs and marmite or you can get vitamin pills.

– You need stomach acid to absorb B12 so make sure you’re not taking antacids/heart burn relief around the time you’re eating your source of B12.

I have also looked at natural supplements myself and today, in Sainsburys I found this…

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It isn’t cheap, this pack is normally £10 but was on offer at £7.50 today. I think it will be worth it though and should last me about 3 weeks as a 10g serving provides over 340% RDA of Iron and 1120% of B12.

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It is by a company called Bioglan Super foods and can be added to food easily, so I have ditched the morning coffee (probably already should have anyway!) and have started having a green smoothie instead.

Today’s Iron boosting breakfast smoothie contained:
1 banana
Handful of frozen berries
1/4 avocado
200ml Orange juice (fresh, not from concentrate)
Handful of spinach
1/4 Cucumber

This made two portions and I then added a heaped teaspoon (approx 5g)of green powder to each. I’m not going to lie, it tastes like pond water but I just drank it with a straw quickly! I’m going to play around with different ingredients and look at adding things like peanut butter and agarve nectar to make it slightly more appealing but I figure 30 seconds of enduring the drink is better than 11 weeks + of tablet side effects!

My plan now is to have one of these for breakfast everyday, to make sure I have red meat, chicken and/or eggs every day plus plenty of green veg and pulses and to swap caffeinated drinks for herbal teas. My midwife has said she can then retest me at 34 weeks which still leaves us time to take medicated action if completely necessary.

All of this info plus some personal stories have really helped me relax and feel confident I can take control of this without needing to medicate straightaway.

I know it probably seems as though I am over reacting but as I’m planning a second home birth I feel it especially important I’m in the best health possible and feel quite strongly that my medical care should be a discussion between myself and a professional not just an unexplained prescription left at a desk and if the NHS is struggling financially why are doctors offering prescriptions first if other options are available?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and any Iron boosting tips!