Iron in pregnancy: How do we secure an appropriate iron status in the mother and child?

Ann Nutr Metab. 2011;59(1):50-4. doi: 10.1159/000332129. Epub 2011 Nov 25.


Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia (IDA) during pregnancy are risk factors for preterm delivery, prematurity, and small for gestational age birth weight. Iron deficiency has a negative effect on intelligence and behavioral development in the infant. It is essential to prevent iron deficiency in the fetus by preventing iron deficiency in the pregnant woman. The requirements for absorbed iron increase during pregnancy from ∼1.0 mg/day in the first trimester to 7.5 mg/day in the third trimester. More than 90% of Scandinavian women of reproductive age have a dietary iron intake below the recommended 15 mg/day. Among nonpregnant women of reproductive age, ∼40% have plasma ferritin ≤30 μg/l, i.e. an unfavorable iron status with respect to pregnancy. An adequate iron status during pregnancy implies body iron reserves ≥500 mg at conception, but only 15-20% of women have iron reserves of such a magnitude. Iron supplements during pregnancy reduce the prevalence of IDA. In Europe, IDA can be prevented by a general low-dose iron prophylaxis of 30-40 mg ferrous iron taken between meals from early pregnancy to delivery. In affluent societies, individual iron prophylaxis tailored by the ferritin concentration should be preferred to general prophylaxis. Suggested guidelines are: ferritin >70 μg/l, no iron supplements; ferritin 31-70 μg/l, 30-40 mg ferrous iron per day, and ferritin ≤30 μg/l, 60-80 mg ferrous iron per day. In women with ferritin <15 μg/l, i.e. depleted iron reserves and possible IDA, therapeutic doses of 100 mg ferrous iron per day should be advised.

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / blood
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / diagnosis*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / embryology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / prevention & control
  • Blood Cell Count
  • Child Development
  • Dietary Supplements / analysis
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Fetal Development
  • Fetal Nutrition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Nutrition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron Deficiencies*
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Iron, Dietary / therapeutic use
  • Lactation
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / blood
  • Pregnancy Complications / diagnosis*
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control
  • Pregnancy Proteins / blood


  • Iron, Dietary
  • Pregnancy Proteins
  • Ferritins
  • Iron