Anemia in Pregnancy

During the later stages of pregnancy, the body of a female produces a lot of red blood cells to deliver oxygen rich blood to the unborn baby that may help during the stressful period of childbirth. The primary ingredient of every blood cell is iron that is obtained via food consumed by the pregnant mother. During pregnancy, it becomes even more necessary to consume iron rich foods to minimize the risk of iron deficiency that may present as anemia and may threaten optimal development and growth of unborn baby. Fortunately, it is pretty convenient to fix this issue for an uneventful pregnancy.

Types and Causes of Anemia in Pregnancy

Based on molecular and patho-physiological factors, anemia during pregnancy can be classified as the following three types, among which iron deficiency anemia is the most common:

1.    Iron Deficiency Anemia

Hemoglobin is a protein that collects oxygen from lungs to other body parts. When the body is unable to produce hemoglobin in adequate amounts due to iron deficiency, the red blood cells contain lesser amounts of hemoglobin that may affect the oxygen carrying capacity of the body.

Following are some of the primary causes of Iron deficiency anemia in pregnant mothers:

  • ŸIron deficiency due to poor dietary intake of iron rich foods or an inability of body to absorb dietary iron
  • Ÿ Pregnancy itself can affect RBC production because iron is consumed by body to raise the blood volume of female body and without extra supplementation the body itself cannot feed the growing fetus.
  • Ÿ Heavy bleeding may occur due to polyp, an ulcer, menstruation or after receiving blood donation that may affect normal RBC production

2.    Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is required by the body to form healthy RBCs. Deficiency of vitamin B12 can affect healthy erythrocyte production. Lack of adequate B12 can cause abnormalities in the baby. Pregnant women who avoid poultry, meat, eggs and dairy products are on high risk of developing this deficiency that may culminate in various birth defect including neural tube abnormality, preterm labor, etc.

3.    Folate Deficiency Anemia

Folate is a type of B vitamin and is commonly known as folic acid. The body require folic acid for generating new and healthy RBCs. In pregnancy a female requires extra amount of folic acid, which if they don’t get enough from diet, leads to the body not able to make enough red blood cells and transport oxygen to the tissues in the body. Deficiency of folic acid can lead to several birth defects such as low birth weight and spina bifida.

Risk Factors for Anemia in Pregnancy

Every pregnant woman is at risk of developing anemia because the demand of supplemental folic acid and iron increases during pregnancy. This demand should be met by supplements as dietary sources alone may not suffice in most women. This risk increases if a pregnant female:

  • ŸIs carrying more than one child in her womb
  • ŸHas had two close pregnancies
  • ŸDoes a lot of vomiting  due to morning sickness (that is interfering with her dietary intake)
  • ŸIs a teenager
  • ŸDo not consume iron rich foods
  • ŸHad a history of anemia before becoming pregnant

How to Know If You Have Anemia in Pregnancy

1.  Tests on Prenatal Visits

The doctor will recommend a blood test on your first prenatal appointment to identify if you are anemic. Most of the females are not anemic at the start of pregnancy but as the pregnancy progresses, anemia is a likely complication. This is the reason why your doctor may recommend another blood test at the end of second trimester or start of third trimester. Normally it is seen that the hemoglobin of a pregnant female falls during second half of pregnancy and it is important to consume foods that helps in maintaining hemoglobin.

2.  Symptoms of Anemia

Pregnant females experiencing mild anemia may not possess severe symptoms. In fact most symptoms are generally misunderstood for normal pregnancy symptoms such as dizziness, weakness, feeling of being tired and sleepy all the time and pale complexion of skin. Some other mild anemia symptoms include heart palpitations, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, irritability, headaches, facing trouble while concentrating at work, etc.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice the above mentioned symptoms consistently, consult your doctor for treatments and advice.

According to the research and clinical data, there is a strong association between severe iron deficiency anemia and non- food cravings include clay, paper or ice – this condition is called pica. Pregnant female experiencing this situation should seek the help of a healthcare provider.

How to Treat Anemia in Pregnancy

1.  Take Vitamins According to Your Anemia Type

  • Folic acid. If during your pregnancy you become anemic, there might be need to take more folic acid supplement and/or iron supplement as you continue taking your prenatal vitamins.
  • Vitamin B12. To treat B12 deficiency, your doctor may recommend that you take vitamin B12 supplements as well as include more animal foods to your diet.

2.  Take Iron Supplements

The doctor may advice OTC iron drugs with an appropriate dosage to restock iron in body. Following are some key points that may help the body in absorbing iron properly:

  • ŸConsuming iron medication on empty stomach is beneficial. However, if it irritates the stomach, try to consume iron tablets with meals.
  • ŸAvoid consuming iron drugs with antacids. This is because antacids definitely help in improving the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion but can significantly impair iron absorption by lining cells of stomach. It is optimal to take iron after 4 hours or before 2 hours of consuming antacids.
  • ŸConsume iron drugs along with vitamin C as it may improve the process of absorbing iron. Usually doctors recommend consuming iron with vitamin C supplements or with a glass of orange juice. Some vitamin C rich foods (citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, kiwis, tomatoes and bell peppers) can also be used.

Notes: Iron supplements can lead to constipation which is why stool softener is also recommended by doctors. Iron can also turn the color of stool black but not to worry it is harmless. It is important to consume iron for several months or a year to restore normal levels in the body.

3.  Treat the Primary Cause of Iron Deficiency

If the iron levels in blood does not increase after consuming iron supplementation then this may indicate a potential problem in the iron absorption or consumption (such as excessive internal or external bleeding). Your doctor will investigate and treat accordingly. Its treatment include:

  • ŸOral medications that may reduce the heavy flow of menses
  • ŸAntibiotics for treating peptic ulcers
  • ŸSurgery to remove a fibroid, a tumor or bleeding polyp

4.  Eat Iron Rich Foods

It is easy to prevent anemia in pregnancy by adding iron rich food in diet. According to the recommendations of medical professionals, it is beneficial for pregnant women to consume 30 mg iron /day. Some iron rich foods include:

  • ŸPoultry, lean and red meats
  • ŸEggs
  • ŸLeafy,dark green vegetables (like kale, broccoli and spinach)
  • ŸSeeds and nuts
  • ŸTofu, lentils and beans, lentils

Click here to learn more ways to prevent anemia in pregnancy. 

Watch the following video for to learn healthy sources of iron, which you can easily include into your diet: