During pregnancy a woman's daily requirement for iron doubles, from 15 to 30 milligrams -- and no wonder: Iron is a major component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body and to the placenta. It also enables both mother and fetus to form new red blood cells. Getting enough iron becomes especially important in the second and third trimesters, when maternal blood volume increases and the fetus begins to store the mineral for the first few months after birth.
A shortage of iron can leave an expectant mom tired, pale, and infection-prone. If you have a deficiency, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin. However, you should still aim to eat at least four or five servings of iron-rich foods each day. For an extra boost, preparing foods in cast-iron cookware can increase their iron content. You can also enhance your body's absorption of iron by pairing foods containing iron with a source of vitamin C (a snack of raisins and orange juice, a tomato-and-ground beef pasta sauce), and combining meat sources of iron with nonmeat sources (as in beef-and-bean chili). Because the tannin in tea and the polyphenols in coffee can interfere with iron absorption, avoid drinking them with meals.