Iron infusions in pregnancy: When it's necessary and what to expect

Here's what you need to know.
Written by
Teneal Zuvela
Reviewed by
Last updated on
December 19, 2023
min read
Iron Infusions in Pregnancy: What to Expect | Kin Fertility
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It's pretty normal to feel tired when you're pregnant but if you're experiencing extreme fatigue, you might have another problem on your hands. Low iron is a problem that many pregnant people face, and it's largely because your growing baby is taking most of your iron stores for themselves.

While a mild iron deficiency might not be super concerning, the demands of pregnancy can quickly progress the condition and lead to anaemia — as if pregnancy isn't exhausting enough already.

If your low iron levels are a cause for concern, your doctor might request that you get an iron infusion.

Let's take you through everything you need to know about having low iron when you're pregnant and what to expect from an iron infusion.

What role does iron play in pregnancy?

Iron is an essential mineral that the body uses to create red blood cells. It's primarily responsible for the formation of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body and to your vital organs.

When you become pregnant, your body requires more iron than usual. This is because a pregnant person's body increases its blood supply by almost 50 per cent. Your body uses the extra blood to carry oxygen around your body and to your developing baby.

During pregnancy, iron plays an important role in your baby's development and low iron levels can significantly affect their growth. This can increase the risk of your baby being born prematurely or with a low birth weight.

Your iron intake is particularly important during the last 10 weeks of your pregnancy. At this time, your baby's own iron stores are created and these are relied upon until they begin solids at around six months of age. But, it's not just your baby that can be affected by a low iron intake.

Without an adequate supply of iron during pregnancy, you're also more likely to feel tired, struggle to concentrate and even become more susceptible to infections. In some cases, a severe lack of iron can even lead to anaemia.

How much iron do pregnant people need?

Pregnant people need 27 milligrams of iron per day.

While it's possible to obtain this amount of iron from dietary sources such as red meat, poultry, seafood, leafy green vegetables, dried beans, eggs, iron-fortified breads and cereals, many pregnant people struggle to get enough iron from diet alone.

To prevent iron deficiency during pregnancy, experts recommend taking a prenatal vitamin that contains iron. While many prenatal vitamins contain a form of iron, some women find that the iron that typically comes in these supplements is a little hard to tolerate during pregnancy.

This is why Kin's Prenatal Vitamins contain Ferrochel, a form of iron that's much easier for the intestines to absorb. Essentially, you're not going to end up constipated from this formula!

When you take into account that your body needs 150 per cent more iron when pregnant, it's definitely worth incorporating iron where possible and Kin's Prenatal makes that incredibly easy.

Kin's daily Iron Support supplement is designed to relieve fatigue from inadequate iron intake and low iron levels in pregnancy. Iron is an essential mineral for growth, yet 1 in 2 women experience iron deficiency in pregnancy.

Designed to support you during conception, pregnancy, postpartum or just daily, the Iron Support relieves tiredness, supports a baby's development, sustains healthy iron levels and maintains energy production.

For many, a combination of dietary sources and oral iron supplements will be enough to get the recommended iron intake during pregnancy, but for others, it's still not enough.

In these cases, other treatments are sometimes required to prevent anaemia.

What is anaemia?

Anaemia is a condition that involves a person not having or making enough healthy red blood cells. When this happens, your blood can't carry oxygen around your body and to your vital organs, often leading to extreme fatigue and weakness.

Other symptoms of anaemia can include:

  • Pale or yellow skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • A racing heart
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Chest pain

Someone with anaemia may not exhibit all of these symptoms as the condition can vary in its extremity. If you have mild anaemia, you may only feel a little more tired than usual.

How common is anaemia in pregnant people?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 40 per cent of pregnant people around the globe have anaemia. When anaemia occurs due to a severe iron deficiency, it's called iron-deficiency anaemia. This is the most common type of anaemia.

Many people become anaemic during pregnancy because they have low iron stores before they become pregnant. The demands of pregnancy will then further deplete their already low iron stores and lead to iron-deficiency anaemia.

How do you treat iron deficiencies or anaemia?

Since most people expect to feel more tired during pregnancy, the signs of anaemia can sometimes be hard to spot. Luckily, your doctor or healthcare provider will generally be able to check your iron status and diagnose iron deficiency during your standard prenatal blood tests.

Your blood count is checked in both your first and third trimester of pregnancy and if your haemoglobin level is too low, your doctor will discuss your treatment options.

This may involve a course of oral iron supplementation or, depending on your circumstances, you may require an iron infusion.

Iron infusions during pregnancy

What's the difference between intravenous versus oral iron and why aren't iron supplements considered enough to treat iron deficiency in pregnancy?

Well, in most cases, oral iron supplementation is widely considered to be the first-line treatment for iron deficiencies in pregnant people, while iron infusions are usually only recommended if you're unable to take oral iron supplements.

This might occur if you experience gastrointestinal side effects from oral iron supplements or your body doesn't absorb them properly. You might also require an iron infusion if your iron levels need to be restored quickly.

This might be necessary if you're getting close to your due date or your iron levels are severely low.

What does an iron infusion involve?

An iron infusion is when a dose of iron is delivered intravenously. This means that the iron is delivered through an intravenous (IV) infusion needle into one of your veins.

Usually, an iron infusion is given at a hospital or specialist clinic. It involves a doctor or healthcare worker inserting a small tube into a vein in your arm or hand with the help of a needle.

The tube is attached to a bag of iron solution, which is then pumped or sometimes left to drip down into your vein. Depending on the infusion that you have, your iron infusion can take anywhere from 15 minutes to four hours.

Afterwards, you can expect to feel a little tired and may experience some muscle pain in the days following the procedure. Otherwise, you should be fine to drive home and resume your normal activities soon after your iron infusion.

Are intravenous iron infusions safe during pregnancy?

Being told that you need an iron infusion when you're pregnant can be a little scary and it's normal to feel worried about the effect of the infusion on you and your growing baby.

The good news is that you don't have anything to worry about and intravenous iron infusions are safe for most people to have during pregnancy. Despite this, most health professionals will offer you an oral iron supplementation before giving you an intravenous iron infusion.

This is generally because intravenous iron replacements come with a small risk of skin staining and allergic reactions. However, your doctor or healthcare professional will usually give you a small test dose of intravenous iron before the infusion to combat these potential side effects.

Generally, the risks of severe iron deficiency and anemia are greater for your pregnancy than the risks of having an intravenous iron infusion.

Are iron infusions common during pregnancy?

Studies show that the number of people in Australia and New Zealand having iron infusions during pregnancy is growing. In fact, the number of Australians of reproductive age having intravenous iron infusions has almost doubled in recent years.

This is mainly attributed to the high rates of pregnant people experiencing significant gastrointestinal effects with oral iron supplementation and the greater ease of intravenous iron absorption.

While some women do have iron infusions during their first trimester of pregnancy, it's more common for pregnant people to have an intravenous iron infusion in the second and third trimesters.

How long does an iron infusion last in pregnancy?

An iron infusion is not a permanent solution and it only offers a temporary improvement in your iron levels. This means that you will still have to address the cause of your iron deficiency or anaemia going forward.

However, you can expect your haemoglobin levels to significantly improve in around two to four weeks after the iron infusion. This should provide some temporary relief to your symptoms and improve your energy levels.

While it's unlikely that you will need more than one iron infusion during your pregnancy, your iron levels will be checked regularly throughout your prenatal and early postnatal period.

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