Iron and fertility: Can you get pregnant with low iron levels?

It’s widely known that stuffing your body with nutritionally dense foods is one of the best ways to give those eggs a glow-up before their big debut. But did you know that iron deficiency and fertility can be linked? Yep, this mineral can have a huge impact on the growth of your budding babe—and your overall pregnancy experience. In which case, we bet you’re wondering ‘can iron pills help you get pregnant?’ The answer is: it’s complicated. Read on and we’ll explain.

How are iron and fertility linked? 

First up, iron is important all the time—not just in baby-making season. It’s a real multi-tasker, helping with our immune system and energy levels, but its starring role is in the production of red blood cells, which are vital for transporting oxygen around the body.

Iron becomes even more important when you’re trying to conceive. Why? Well, women with low iron are more likely to experience poor egg health or anovulation, meaning they don’t ovulate. Quite simply, no ovulation means no baby. How’s that for a reason to check you’re getting enough iron?

So, can you get pregnant with low iron levels? The fact is, you can, but there’s a definite connection between iron deficiency and fertility problems. The good news is, upping your iron intake isn’t hard—and studies have shown that it has a positive effect on infertility problems.

Why is iron important during pregnancy?

Once that bun is securely in the oven, iron becomes EVEN more essential. That’s because the amount of blood in our crazy, growing bodies shoots up dramatically, and so does the production of red blood cells. So, while you’d normally need around 18mg of iron a day, the RDA during pregnancy rises to 27mg. With such a leap in requirements, it’s not surprising mums-to-be are at risk of iron deficiency. And that’s no laughing matter: severely low iron during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth, a low birth weight and postpartum depression. Eep!

Again, adapting your diet to increase your iron intake is usually not hard—at least once you’re past the morning sickness phase. (Officially one of the least helpful features of pregnancy.)

How do I know if I’m iron deficient?

There’s only one way to be sure about your iron levels and that’s with a blood test, through your GP. This is not a job for Dr Google. And unless you happen to be an iron and fertility expert, do not try to self-diagnose (Not us questioning how you landed on this article). Yes, there are some common symptoms—and we’re happy to list them—but remember, these could just as easily apply to a bunch of other unrelated conditions:

  • Extreme fatigue (being superwoman can tire anyone out but we’re talking particularly low energy levels, even after not doing much)
  • Ongoing gut issues (this may be a sign that your body’s not absorbing iron)
  • Frequent lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Weak nails 
  • Hair loss
  • Dark circles under your eyes
  • Continually cold feet and hands
  • Fast heartbeat and shortness of breath
  • Unusual cravings such as ice (yes, for real)

Can iron pills help you get pregnant? We’ll say it again: if you suspect you have low iron, go see a real human health professional. Under no circumstances should you start taking an iron supplement ‘just in case’. Consuming too much iron can be toxic for your body, causing damage to tissue and organs. Not fun.

How to treat iron deficiency

Honestly, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Once you understand how iron and fertility are linked, there’s a simple, delicious solution. Pimping your fridge with iron-rich foods can solve the problem for most women. 

There are two types: haem iron, which is from animals, and non-haem iron, found in some plant-based foods. Haem iron is absorbed by the body 10 times better than non-haem iron. (Useful to know if you’re a meat-eater; entirely irrelevant if you’re not.)

Our top picks of iron-rich foods (ranked by most iron per 100g):

  • Liver
  • Seeds such as Sesame, Pumpkin, Chia and Flaxseed
  • Legumes including White beans, Kidney beans, Lentils and Green peas 
  • Pate 
  • Nuts, particularly Cashews, Pinenuts, Peanuts and Macadamia 
  • Tofu 
  • Spinach 
  • Red meat including Beef, Kangaroo, Lamb
  • Dried apricots
  • Eggs 
  • Oats  
  • Canned tuna
  • Lean chicken or turkey 
  • Salmon 

At the same time, ensure you’re getting enough Vitamin C, as that helps your body absorb all that lovely iron. This is easily done by throwing some of these in your supermarket basket:

  • Citrus fruits such as mandarin, orange and grapefruit
  • Capsicum
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Leafy greens such as broccoli and kale
  • Tomatoes
  • Mango

Lastly, beware of iron blockers (the little bastards). These do the opposite of Vitamin C, preventing the absorption of iron. Avoid having them at the same time as your iron-rich meal, and save them for later on instead.

  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Bran
  • Milk

But what about iron tablets?

Look, we get it. The idea of a quick fix can be tempting, but this ain’t it. Iron supplements aren’t something to try without a doctor’s supervision. If your GP does recommend them, they’ll keep an eye on your progress and help iron out (pun intended) any side effects.

All in all, while low iron and fertility struggles have been linked, there’s no need for it to completely halt your trip to the baby-making factory.

This article does not replace medical advice, please always consult with your doctor if you have any concerns. 

Read next: Considering fertility vitamins for your prenatal care? Here’s what you need to know

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Nutrition during pregnancy

Chavarro J, Rich-Edwards J, Rosner B, Willett W. Iron Intake and Risk of Ovulatory Infertility. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2006;108(5):1145-52.

Mayo Clinic, Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy: Prevention tips

Embrace Acupuncture, Effects of Low Iron in Pregnancy and Does Low Iron affect Fertility?

QLD Health, Iron for pregnant women 

US Department of Agriculture, FoodData Central

FoodFAQ, Is oatmeal high in iron?

One Blood, Are eggs a good source of iron?

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