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Pumping iron may be great for your biceps -- but pumping iron supplements into your system when you’re pregnant might not do much for you or your baby, unless you’re already anemic.
A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who already had healthy supplies of red blood cells saw no appreciable difference from taking the additional supplements. "The benefit of iron supplements in nonanemic women is unclear," the study concluded. But for women who came into the study with anemia, taking additional iron -- whether a dedicated iron supplement or as part of a prenatal vitamin -- improved the iron levels in their blood.
"This study only confirms what many of us have known or suspected for years," says Sharon Phelan M.D., an ob-gyn and the vice chair of the University of New Mexico's Health Science Center Ob-Gyn Department. "Additional vitamins... do not necessarily help or [do] good. In fact, I often worry that patients use the fact that they are taking their vitamin to get the off the hook to eat healthy."
If you're not anemic at the start of your pregnancy, and you have an adequate level of iron in your diet, there's a good chance you don't need additional iron over and above your diet and routine prenatal vitamin, Dr. Phelan says.
Still, low levels of iron can be a factor in causing low birth weight and other issues, so it’s important to make sure your levels are optimal (the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women get 27 milligrams daily.) So don't start -- or stop -- taking any vitamin or supplement without your OB's okay, and talk to your doc about what's right for you.