Natural Ways to Resolve Anemia in Pregnancy (no iron pills!)

by Sarah Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & Child, Natural RemediesComments: 31

anemia in pregnancy diagnosed with pin prick

Anemia in pregnancy is an extremely common condition. Even for those women who otherwise experience few problems and whose pregnancies are considered low risk, iron deficiency anemia (IDA) can frequently crop up especially in the final trimester.

The typical suggestion in prenatal exam rooms when a hematocrit or hemoglobin test reveals that an expecting mother is suffering from low iron levels or anemia is to prescribe iron pills. Unfortunately, not only do these pills not work very well, but the inorganic iron in these supplements is not bio-available and can contribute to health problems (think gnawing on a chunk of iron from the local hardware store).

Fortunately, there are effective ways to increase a mother-to-be’s intake of organic iron, which is easily absorbed and metabolized by the body to achieve the desired increase in hemoglobin in the blood.

Who are Most at Risk for Anemia in Pregnancy?

Let’s look at what might cause issues with low iron or anemia in pregnancy to begin with.

First, women who are pregnant with more than one baby are obviously most at risk for developing this condition during gestation. Women who have had two pregnancies very close together experience a lower, but similar risk.

Morning sickness can play a role in pregnancy anemia as this can cause the mother-to-be to not eat enough iron rich foods or to vomit what she does manage to get down the hatch.

Finally, women who were anemic before becoming pregnant have a high risk of the condition continuing throughout gestation.

Signs of pregnancy related anemia include the following according to The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy:

  • Pale skin, lips, and nails
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Dizziness
  • Air hunger or shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trouble focusing

Dangers of Anemia in Pregnancy

While anemia in pregnancy is very common, its effects are very serious indeed. This is why women with blood levels of iron that are too low are prevented from having their babies at a birth center or at home and are required to deliver in a hospital environment. Some of the short and long-term risks of anemia in pregnancy include:

  • Baby that is preterm
  • Baby that is low birthweight
  • Emergency blood transfusion after delivery from loss of blood
  • Postpartum depression
  • Anemic baby that suffers from developmental delays

While women are typically tested for anemia early in pregnancy, a negative result does not mean she is in the clear. Most prenatal providers will test again in the second or third trimester to be sure anemia did not slowly creep up. In fact, a common scenario is for a low hematocrit to suddenly appear in the later stage of pregnancy when everything was fine earlier in gestation.

Why You Should Avoid Inorganic Iron (Yes, Those Pills Your Doctor Prescribed)

When anemia in pregnancy is diagnosed, iron pills are the go-to solution for most prenatal care providers. The trouble is, these things don’t work very well and should be avoided due to a potential aggravation of inflammatory conditions.

According to Dr. Nicole Dinezza, organic iron (from food) and inorganic iron (from supplements like iron pills or cast iron pans) are processed differently in the intestinal tract. Organic sources of iron require an additional (beneficial) processing by the liver before being fully metabolized. An increasing amount of research suggests that an excess of inorganic iron in the diet is responsible for encouraging a cascade of inflammatory conditions (1).  Dr. Lawrence Wilson MD discusses more about the dangers of inorganic iron and the toxicity of iron added to processed foods and supplements in this article.

The rub with all of this is that you can be faithfully taking iron pills or other supplements containing iron and still remain anemic due to the lack of bio-availability of inorganic iron. Not only are they ineffective, iron pills frequently cause uncomfortable side effects such as constipation, diarrhea, leg cramps, and/or nausea. In addition, black stools are a frequent occurrence for those who take iron pills, one indication of how indigestible these things are! Such side effects do not occur when consuming food sources naturally high in organic iron (discussed below).

This is why when your prenatal care provider suggests iron pills for a low hematocrit, you might want to consider doing what I did:  Smile, politely decline, and embrace the natural alternatives that will provide bio-available, organic iron to your diet instead.

Natural Ways to Relieve Anemia in Pregnancy

I suffered from low iron with all three of my pregnancies. Fortunately, it only cropped up late in the third trimester each time and was easily resolved with a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses every day stirred into a glass of grassfed milk. Blackstrap molasses is naturally very high in organic iron and a great food to naturally boost blood levels of this mineral. Don’t worry about those who say that consuming molasses with milk will interfere with iron absorption. The research is far from conclusive on this topic with some sources suggesting that milk does not interfere with iron absorption at all (2). I can personally attest to the milk/molasses approach working very effectively for me.

According to the book The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Childcare, an easy way to take 1-2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses each day is in a mug of hot water. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil (virgin or expeller pressed) and 1/2 teaspoon of ground or fresh ginger if you are in need of a pick-me-up (who doesn’t during pregnancy?). This healthful beverage also makes a good coffee substitute during pregnancy as well if you are trying to avoid caffeine.

Other natural ways to combat anemia in pregnancy include:

  • Eat liver! Liver is very high in organic iron. This article contains a recipe plus video how-to for making a delicious liver pate to spread on toast and crackers. Liver also contains plentiful natural Vitamin A which is necessary for proper absorption of iron. If you can’t stomach liver for whatever reason, desiccated liver powder capsules are an excellent alternative. My family and I use this brand which is made from certified organic liver from cows grazing on grasslands in the United States. Be wary of some desiccated liver brands that remove the fat which denatures the product. You only want desiccated liver with nothing added and nothing removed!
  • Don’t be scared of red meat. A juicy grassfed steak is good for improving iron levels and is not going to harm your health (3).
  • Avoid refined carbs, sugar, and antibiotics (and the Pill before getting pregnant) as this encourages gut imbalance and the development of abnormal gut flora. According to Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, an unbalanced gut can frequently thwart efforts to resolve anemia naturally because a particular group of pathogenic bacteria that thrive in this type of intestinal environment love iron! These strains (Actinomyces spp., Mycobaterium spp., Corynebacterium spp., and others) consume whatever iron a person gets from the diet leaving them deficient and sometimes anemic. Iron pills actually make the problem worse as they provide food for these pathogenic strains making their hold in the gut ever stronger with no resolution of the anemia and sometimes worsening of the condition.
  • If the blackstrap molasses approach doesn’t appeal to you, Floradix makes a product with organic iron and herbs to assist absorption (sources). It also serves as a digestive aid. The dosage is .34 ounces (10 mL) twice each day. It can also be used throughout pregnancy as a preventative for anemia, not just when the condition has already become a problem.

Did you have a problem with low iron or anemia during pregnancy? What natural approaches for resolving this nutritional deficiency did you use that worked?

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Comments (31)

  • Adi

    Is there a significant difference in quality between the dessicated liver pills that you are recommending and the Perfect brand dessicated liver? Are they both good?

    July 18th, 2016 6:21 am Reply
  • Krissy

    What brand of blackstrap molasses do you recommend? My midwife said I’m very anemic when she checked my iron levels in the beginning of my pregnancy but this is my second baby. I have been taking the liver pulls but I still feel super dizzy and completely exhausted most days!

    April 22nd, 2016 2:02 pm Reply
  • Rachxl

    I’m currently almost 35 weeks pregnant and have been told I’m anemic–no prescription but I was told to get more iron. I know I actually have true iron-deficiency anemia because I have a mild bleeding disorder (microscopic blood in the urine, life long).My research led me to order high quality organic spirulina. I’d love to know your thoughts!

    January 25th, 2016 8:43 am Reply
  • Melissa

    I had low iron levels with all three of my pregnancies, starting early in the second trimester. With the first two I was able to raise my levels by drinking infusions of nettle leaf 3-4 times per day. With the third pregnancy I also had to add dessicated liver capsules, which made enormous difference.

    January 1st, 2016 4:13 pm Reply
  • Mama V V

    You don’t have to stake your molasses with milk. I was dreading taking the molasses after finding out about my anemia, but I quite enjoy sneaking molasses into foods. My two favorite ways to take molasses/ in my gluten free oatmeal with cinnamon and grass fed butter and in coconut milk hot chocolate.

    December 29th, 2015 11:54 pm Reply
  • Marilyn

    In my last pregnancy (3rd)I had really good iron levels.I asked my midwife what she thinks I’m doing correctly and she said she thinks it’s all the free-range eggs I consumed 😉

    December 23rd, 2015 4:40 pm Reply
  • Kari

    I’m having a hard time sourcing blackstrap molasses locally. Can I use unsulphured molasses? The brand is Grandmas and I already have some.

    December 22nd, 2015 10:04 am Reply
  • J.

    I wondered if you think is ok to take dessicated liver capsules in addition to the iron prescription from the doctor?

    December 20th, 2015 9:14 pm Reply
    • Sarah

      Why would you want to do that?

      December 20th, 2015 10:13 pm Reply
  • Linda

    At 36 weeks my iron levels were at 93 and I was told unless they were over 100 I couldn’t have my home birth. The doctor prescribed iron tablets, but I wasn’t keen to take them. Instead I took the recommended Floradix twice a day plus 3 sachets of Spatone (a natural iron rich spring water). Spatone may only be a UK thing. 2 weeks later, at 38 weeks my iron levels were at 108!! I had a very successful home birth and never bothered with the prescribed iron tablets 😊

    December 20th, 2015 9:25 am Reply
  • Amie

    I used Yellow Dock Root Tincture as recommended by my midwife/herbalist. It worked much better than Floradix for me and I learned second time around to keep taking it while breastfeeding otherwise I dip very low.

    December 17th, 2015 11:06 pm Reply
  • Marilyn

    Interesting article! In my latest pregnancy (3rd) my iron levels tested very good. I asked my midwife what she thinks I’m doing correctly and she said she thinks it’s all the free range eggs I consume 😉

    December 17th, 2015 1:17 pm Reply
  • Rachel

    I took Floradix during my last pregnancy and had severe stomach issues with it. I ended up discontinuing use (never told the midwives) and ate more meat during the latter half of the pregnancy. My baby was born full term, great birth weight and has developed fine. I’d tell women not just follow their doctor’s suggestions, listen to your gut! I had a feeling my gut health was being comprised so I made sure I had lots of fermented foods before the GB test. My midwives were desperately looking for something to get me on (they later fired me because they disagreed with my parenting).

    December 16th, 2015 9:09 pm Reply
  • Michelle

    What about the sugar in Black Strap Molasses? One tablespoon is 15grams – that’s like a cake slice. My doctor put me on ferrous bisglycinate, Hemagenics. She said it was absorbable form. Thoughts? I don’t think it’s a natural form. Has anyone tried MegaFood – Blood Builder? Thanks!

    December 16th, 2015 5:11 pm Reply
    • Sarah

      Yes, there is sugar in blackstrap molasses, but it is unrefined and loaded with minerals … like iron :)

      December 16th, 2015 5:57 pm Reply
    • Olivia

      Ferrous bisglycinate (particularly the nature bounty brand) is by far the best there is. I have been iron deficient my whole life and have tried pretty much everything. This works, and works well.

      December 31st, 2015 12:06 am Reply
    • Laura

      My midwife recommended Megafoods Blood Builder for my second (and 3rd and 4th) pregnancy after I was borderline anemic and then hemorrhaged during my first birth. It worked great and didn’t cause nausea, etc. I’m sure liver or molasses are fantastic too, but I didn’t know about them at the time. I took 2 a day until my iron levels were up then maintained it at 1 for several months after giving birth.

      March 4th, 2016 8:24 am Reply
  • Vickii

    Please verify your dosage recommendation for Floradix. 2-4 ounces twice a day is potentially unsafe and huge dose. This must be a typo, and I would hate someone to use your recommendation.

    December 16th, 2015 3:23 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Thank you for catching this … the serving size is 10mL which is equivalent to .33 ounces. I will fix this now :)

      December 16th, 2015 7:55 am Reply
  • Katie

    I believe Floradix has ferrous gluconate in it which is a synthetic iron. Many prescription or OTC iron supplements also have ferrous gluconate. The Floradix has herbs added to the liquid, but the iron itself is synthetic.

    I recently was diagnosed as anemic and did not want to go on synthetic iron supplemnts. I recently found two products that only contain iron from plant material:
    (1) Garden of Life mykind Organics Plant Iron & Organic Herbs. – I only just began taking this, so I cannot report to its efficacy yet. While I’m thrilled to find a whole food iron supplement, I must admit the taste is not that wonderful. They do label the strength per serving and it is equivalent to the Floradix (10 mg iron/10 mL).

    (2) Trilight Health’s Tri-Iron All Natural Herbal Mineral Iron Supplement. – I only purchased a small bottle of this as the company was new to me. However, the taste is amazing and very palatable to take. A strength is not given on the label though as far as how much iron is in a serving. It does suggest a dosage but I am not aware of how much iron is in a serving.

    Just wanted to share two fully natural products I found in my search to correct my anemia.

    Blessings to you and thank you for all the information you share here~

    December 15th, 2015 7:43 am Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Thanks for these additional sources!

      December 16th, 2015 8:00 am Reply
  • Ns

    The floradix i used contained msg. (Found out later). But maybe there are other versions.

    December 15th, 2015 4:22 am Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      What was the ingredient that contained MSG that you noticed?

      December 15th, 2015 5:47 pm Reply
  • Robert

    How do you correct the imbalance problem of and excess of Actinomyces spp., Mycobaterium spp., Corynebacterium spp., and others?

    December 15th, 2015 4:07 am Reply
  • Betsy Bloomfield

    I couldn’t stomach liver, but grass-fed dessicated liver capsules rocketed my iron levels during my 3rd trimester when my numbers dropped quite low. It worked much faster than floradix for me.

    December 15th, 2015 12:15 am Reply
    • Sarah

      Thanks for suggesting that … yes, desiccated liver capsules are a great option.

      December 15th, 2015 6:58 am Reply
    • Dali

      Do you take the full dose all at once? Without food? I’ve been taking Hemogenics which has ferrous bisglycinate, per my midwife’s recommendation. I’m pregnant and get short of breath easily and am really weak in the mornings. I’d like to switch to a more natural iron supplement.

      December 15th, 2015 10:57 am Reply
  • mary harvey

    Thank you so much for this article and the research you’ve completed in order to write all of this out! I am very appreciative of your time and hard work. I’ve been exhausted and felt “unwell” for so long and I’ve tried many things, not knowing what the root cause was and then finding out I needed extra iron. Of course, my doctor recommended the iron pills you mentioned :) I’m happy to find this wonderful alternative. Thanks again!

    December 14th, 2015 10:21 pm Reply
    • Sarah

      I hope you feel better soon Mary! Let us know how you are doing once you get more organic iron sources into your diet.

      December 15th, 2015 6:59 am Reply
  • Hilary

    What about the Floradix pills, are those also organic iron? TIA.

    December 14th, 2015 8:05 pm Reply

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