Anemia During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your blood supply increases to supply nutrition to your growing baby. Iron carries oxygen to muscles, helping them function properly, but it is also essential for the formation of healthy red blood cells and to accommodate the demand created by your increased blood volume. Without adequate amounts of iron, your baby will draw his or her supply from you. This iron deficiency may cause a condition called anemia, which may leave you feeling very fatigued.

In pregnancy, anemia -- lower-than-normal levels of hemoglobin in the blood -- is common because of the increase in blood volume to meet the demands of the growing fetus. Learn how to avoid this condition from the very beginning of pregnancy and find out what steps you can take to correct it.


What Causes Anemia during Pregnancy?

Disordered red blood cell production (caused by low iron, malnutrition or kidney failure), destruction of red blood cells (caused by inflammation, sepsis or chronic infection) or excessive blood loss (bleeding hemorrhoids, intestinal parasites, placenta previa, premature placental separation, miscarriage and postpartum uterine atony and hemorrhage) can all cause anemia. However, iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia during pregnancy.

Unfortunately, many women begin their pregnancies with low stores of iron, which lays the foundation for anemia as pregnancy progresses. The amount of iron you need to support your growing baby increases from 18 mg to 27 mg per day, which can be difficult to take in through diet alone. This is why most women are advised to take prenatal vitamins that include enough iron to ensure your blood is getting the nourishment it needs.

Symptoms of Anemia during Pregnancy

Although anemia can go unnoticed during pregnancy, there are some signs to watch out for. Symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath with exertion, insomnia, pale skin color, palpitations, headache, dizziness and rapid heart rate. These symptoms are a result of decreased oxygen circulation in the body.

Of course, many of these symptoms bear a striking resemblance to common discomforts of pregnancy, which can make anemia difficult to recognize. This is why you'll have your blood tested at your first prenatal visit and again towards the end of your second trimester or into your third trimester.

Treatment of This Pregnancy Problem

Treatment includes replacing the missing component, whether it is iron, folic acid or vitamin B12. You can increase the absorption of iron by drinking orange or tomato juice with your prenatal vitamin and when eating iron-rich foods. Iron-rich foods include lean red meat, clams, oysters, shrimp, egg yolk, sardines, legumes (peas, kidney beans, lima beans, soybeans and lentils), pumpkin, potatoes in their skin, broccoli, collard and turnip greens, dried fruits, berries, enriched or fortified breads and cereals and molasses. However, it's difficult to consume enough iron from foods alone, so you may benefit from taking an iron supplement (especially during the second and third trimesters). Talk with your doctor or midwife before taking any supplements, though, as too much of any given nutrient can bring unwelcome side effects.

For a hemoglobin level below 7 or 8, one or more units of packed red blood cells may need to be infused. This red blood cell transfusion is reserved for only the most severe cases of anemia, as a typical case is more easily resolved with good diet and an iron-rich supplement. Your recovery will depend on how anemic you are when beginning treatment, but most women will notice their symptoms starting to disappear within two or three weeks.