The Importance of Iron for Women: Understanding the Risks and Solutions

By Dr Olivia Naturals Support • July 09, 2024

Iron is an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in many bodily functions, including the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. Women, in particular, are more prone to iron deficiency due to several factors such as menstruation, pregnancy, and the postpartum period. Understanding the importance of iron and the risks associated with iron deficiency is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being.

Why Women Are More Prone to Iron Deficiency

1. Menstruation: One of the primary reasons women are more susceptible to iron deficiency is menstruation. During menstruation, women lose blood, and with it, iron. This monthly loss can deplete iron stores, especially if the diet is not sufficient in iron-rich foods. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding are at an even higher risk.

2. Pregnancy: Pregnancy significantly increases the body's demand for iron. This is because iron is needed to produce additional blood to supply oxygen to the growing fetus and placenta. Pregnant women require about 27 mg of iron per day, which is almost double the amount needed by non-pregnant women. If this increased need is not met, it can lead to iron deficiency anemia, which can have serious consequences for both the mother and the baby.

3. Childbirth: The process of childbirth involves blood loss, which can further deplete a woman's iron stores. After delivery, new mothers need to replenish their iron levels to recover and to support breastfeeding, which also demands a higher intake of iron.

The Impact of Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy

Iron deficiency during pregnancy is a serious concern because it can affect both the mother and the developing fetus. If a pregnant woman is iron deficient, her baby is more likely to be born with low iron levels. This can have several implications:

1. Fetal Brain Development: Iron is crucial for brain development. In the fetus and newborns, iron deficiency can lead to impaired brain development. This is because iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the brain. Without adequate oxygen, the brain cannot develop properly. This can lead to delayed speech and motor development in infants.

2. Increased Risk of Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight: Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. Babies born prematurely or with low birth weight are at higher risk for various health problems and developmental delays.

3. Maternal Health Complications: For the mother, iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, weakness, and an increased risk of infections. Severe anemia can also complicate the delivery process and increase the risk of postpartum hemorrhage.

The Importance of Iron for Infants and Young Children

Iron deficiency does not only affect pregnant women; it can also have serious consequences for infants and young children. Adequate iron is crucial for the growth and development of children. Without it, they are at risk of several health issues:

1. Delayed Development: Iron deficiency in infants and young children can lead to delayed cognitive and physical development. This includes delayed speech and motor skills, as well as behavioral problems. The brain is particularly sensitive to low iron levels during periods of rapid growth, making early childhood a critical time for ensuring adequate iron intake.

2. Increased Susceptibility to Infections: Iron is essential for a healthy immune system. Iron-deficient children are more susceptible to infections and illnesses, which can further impair their growth and development.

3. Anemia: Chronic iron deficiency can lead to anemia, a condition where the blood does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, and poor concentration, affecting a child's ability to learn and thrive.

Ensuring Adequate Iron Intake

Given the importance of iron, it is essential for women, especially those who are pregnant or of childbearing age, to ensure they are getting enough of this vital nutrient. Here are some strategies to maintain adequate iron levels:

1. Iron-Rich Diet: Incorporating iron-rich foods into your diet is one of the best ways to prevent iron deficiency. There are two types of dietary iron: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron, found in animal products like red meat, poultry, and fish, is more easily absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron, found in plant-based foods like beans, lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals, is not as easily absorbed but is still an important part of a balanced diet.

2. Iron Supplements: In some cases, dietary intake alone may not be sufficient to meet the increased iron needs, especially during pregnancy. Iron supplements can help bridge this gap. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen to determine the appropriate dosage and type of iron supplement.

3. Enhance Iron Absorption: Certain dietary factors can enhance or inhibit the absorption of iron. Vitamin C, found in fruits like oranges, strawberries, and bell peppers, can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron. On the other hand, calcium, found in dairy products, can inhibit iron absorption. It is advisable to consume calcium-rich foods and iron-rich foods at different times to maximize iron absorption.

4. Regular Screening: Regular screening for iron levels can help detect iron deficiency early and allow for timely intervention. This is particularly important for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

The Role of Milk in Iron Absorption

An important consideration when managing iron levels is the consumption of milk. While milk is an excellent source of calcium and other nutrients, it can inhibit the absorption of iron. This is because calcium competes with iron for absorption in the intestines. Therefore, it is advisable to separate the consumption of calcium-rich foods, like milk, from iron-rich foods or iron supplements to ensure optimal iron absorption.


Iron is an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in overall health, particularly for women. Menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth all increase the risk of iron deficiency in women. Ensuring adequate iron intake through a balanced diet, supplements when necessary, and strategies to enhance iron absorption is crucial for preventing iron deficiency and its associated risks.

For pregnant women, maintaining adequate iron levels is vital for the health and development of the fetus. Iron deficiency during pregnancy can lead to serious complications, including impaired brain development in infants. For infants and young children, adequate iron intake is essential for growth, development, and a healthy immune system.

By understanding the importance of iron and taking proactive steps to maintain adequate levels, women can support their health and the health of their children, ensuring a better quality of life for themselves and their families.