Anemia in Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, there is a high possibility of developing anemia. During this period, your blood does not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your baby and to your tissues if you have anemia. Normally, your body produces more blood to support the growth of your baby when you are pregnant. You, however, may not be able to produce the amount of blood cells that are needed to make this additional blood if you are not getting sufficient iron or specific other nutrients. 

Having mild anemia during pregnancy is normal. However, severe anemia might be caused by vitamin levels, low levels of iron or other reasons. Anemia can leave you feeling weak and tired. If severe anemia goes untreated, it can increase the risk of getting other serious complications like preterm delivery. Here is what you need to know about causes, symptoms and treatment of anemia when pregnant.

What Is Anemia in Pregnancy?

There are different types of anemia that can develop during pregnancy:

  • Folate-deficiency anemia
  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

Below are reasons why these different types of anemia develop.

  • Iron deficiency anemia. This type of anemia occurs when there is not enough iron being produced in the body to produce the required amount of hemoglobin. In this type of anemia, the blood does not have the ability to carry enough amounts of oxygen from the lungs to other body parts. This is the most common type of anemia during pregnancy.
  • Folate anemia. Folate is a type of vitamin B, which is also called folic acid. Folate is needed to produce new cells, and this includes healthy red blood cells. When a woman is pregnant, the body needs more folate than usual. When there is a deficiency in folate, the baby can be born with certain birth defects like low birth weight and neural tube abnormalities.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 is needed to form healthy red blood cells. When an expectant woman does not get enough B12 from her diet, then her body cannot produce enough red blood cells that are healthy. Lack of adequate B12 can cause abnormalities in the baby.

What Are the Symptoms of Anemia in Pregnancy?

  • Feeling weak
  • Being tired
  • Shortness of breathe
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling cold especially in the feet and hands
  • Headaches
  • Being pale
  • Having trouble concentrating.

Here is a video showing the symptoms of anemia in pregnancy:

What Causes Anemia in Pregnancy?

The requirement of iron in your body doubles when you are pregnant. Many women have a hard time doubling the amount of this mineral from their regular diet. When the amount of iron stored in the body gets very low, there is a possibility of developing anemia. You might not feel any symptom if your case is mild.

How to Treat Anemia in Pregnancy

  • Folic acid. If during your pregnancy you become anemic, there might be need to start taking folic acid supplement and/or iron supplement as you continue taking your prenatal vitamins.
  • Foods rich in iron. There might be a suggestion from your doctor that you add foods that are high in folic acid and iron to your diet. You will be asked to go back for another blood test so that the doctor can check whether your hemoglobin levels are improving.
  • 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.  
  • Iron supplement pills. For your body to absorb as much iron as possible, it is best that you take iron supplement pills on an empty stomach. Take the pills with plain water or with orange juice, as vitamin C helps with the absorption process.
  • Take pills without milk. Avoid taking the supplements with milk as calcium interferes with absorption. You should be producing a lot of healthy red blood cells in one week, and your level of hemoglobin should start to rise. It takes a few months for anemia to disappear. However, you are advised that you continue taking the iron supplements for a few more months.

Important notes:

Be alert about keeping pills that contain iron away from childrenand in childproof containers. There are many children dying from iron overdose than from any other accidental drug poisoning each year.

Here is more information about treating iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy:

How to Prevent Anemia in Pregnancy

You have to make sure that you get enough iron so as to prevent anemia during the time that you are pregnant. Add more foods that are rich in iron to your diet and eat a well balanced meal all the time. Aim for foods such as:

  • Leafy, dark green vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach and kale)
  • Lean red meat, fish and poultry
  • Bean, tofu and lentils
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Iron-enriched grains and cereals
  • Eggs

Foods that are high in vitamin C that can help your body absorb more iron include:

  • Strawberries
  • Kiwis
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers

Try to eat the above foods at the same time that you are eating foods that are rich in iron. You can, for example, drink a glass of orange juice as you eat cereal that is iron fortified for breakfast.

Eat foods that are high in folic acid so as to prevent Folate deficiency. Foods you can pick from include:

  • Citrus juices and fruits
  • Dried beans
  • Fortified cereals and bread
  • Green leafy vegetables.

Avoid taking a calcium supplement or antacids that contain calcium while you are eating foods that are rich in iron, or at the time you are taking your iron supplements. Calcium hinders the ability of your body to absorb iron, and for this reason it is advised that you do not take your iron supplements and drain them down with milk. The most advisable time for a pregnant woman to drink milk is in between meals. The same case applies to coffee, which contains polyphenols that interfere with the absorption of iron from plant sources and supplements.