The changes of pregnancy can put a lot of strain on your body, and anemia is one of the biggest worries for expecting moms. It’s fairly common: about 17% of pregnant women in the US are affected by anemia.1Even so, anemia can be risky for you and your baby alike, so it’s important to catch it and treat it early. Let’s run through what you need to know about what pregnancy-related anemia is, what causes it, how to treat it, as well what steps you can take to keep you and your baby healthy.
Anemia in pregnancy: What causes it?
To support your baby and prepare for bleeding during labor, your blood plasma increases by about 50%, with a 17% increase in oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Iron deficiency is a common cause of anemia for pregnant women. If you aren’t getting enough iron from your diet, then the production of hemoglobin also slows down.
The reduced concentration of oxygen-carrying red blood cells results in anemia, and leaves you feeling tired and weak. Factors like morning sickness, diet and carrying multiples can put pregnant moms at increased risk of anemia.
What are the symptoms of anemia during pregnancy?
Anemia may be common for moms-to-be, but the signs can be easy to miss. Some common symptoms of anemia during pregnancy include:
- Feeling easily tired and lethargic (for instance, not waking up easily in the morning)
- Feeling the cold easily
- Racing or pounding heart (heart palpitations)
- Headache and lightheadedness
- Sore tongue
Some women find these symptoms are worse in late pregnancy, while others don’t notice much of a difference. Others may not even realize that their symptoms are due to anemia, rather than usual pregnancy blues. It may even be an improvement on the worst of morning sickness. But anemia during pregnancy isn’t good for you: speak to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
How does anemia in pregnancy affect my baby?
Your baby takes the lion’s share of iron in your blood, so even if you become iron deficient, your baby will probably be getting enough. However, if you have very severe, untreated anemia, there can be some serious consequences – particularly early in pregnancy. Studies have shown a link between first trimester anemia and low birth weight. Anemia during pregnancy is in general also known to increase the risk of premature birth.
There can also be indirect effects, such as dizziness increasing your risk of falls, and feeling too tired to get the basic exercise that contributes to a healthy pregnancy. Anemia has also been shown to increase your risk of postpartum hemorrhage (abnormally heavy bleeding after birth). This could require a blood transfusion, and make it harder for you to bounce back after giving birth.
How is anemia during pregnancy diagnosed and treated?
Each time you see your OB-GYN for your scheduled check-ups, they will test for anemia as part of your routine pregnancy blood test. These tests will also show if your iron is low, and you are at risk of developing anemia. If you are anemic, treatment is usually quite simple: your doctor will likely prescribe you an iron supplement, and check back with you with again soon.
If you are concerned about symptoms of anemia, don’t put off seeing a doctor until your next OB-GYN appointment – early diagnosis and treatment will get you back on your feet sooner.
How can I prevent anemia during pregnancy?
Anemia in pregnancy can’t always be prevented, but you can reduce your chances by following a healthy diet with enough iron. During pregnancy, you’ll need to get 27 mg of iron every day.2Rich sources of iron include:
- Meat, particularly red meat (like beef and liver)
- Spinach and other green, leafy vegetables
- Beans and legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils)
- Iron-fortified cereals and breads
However, it’s possible to get too much iron – particularly if you’re taking a prenatal vitamin or iron supplement. This could be dangerous for you and your baby. You’ll also want to avoid eating too much liver, or you could end up overdosing on Vitamin A.
If you’re unsure about what you need to eat or take to keep anemia in check, ask your doctor: they can help you tweak your diet and supplement regime to get your blood levels where they ought to be.
Taking control of anemia in pregnancy
The dizziness, headaches and washed-out blah feeling of anemia can add extra unpleasantness to the usual symptoms of pregnancy. The good news is, it’s very treatable. Speak to your doctor for advice on how to best address your symptoms.