Anemia in Pregnancy
What Is Anemia in Pregnancy?
Anemia in pregnancy is when your body does not produce enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues and to your baby. This can affect the proper functioning of your organs. During pregnancy, your body needs double the amount of iron. Although it is common to experience moderate anemia and low iron during pregnancy, a more severe condition not treated can cause serious complications for you and your baby.
Types of Anemia
There are more than 400 different types of anemia. However, the three main types of anemia are iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency and folate deficiency.
The three main types of anemia:
- Iron-deficiency anemia: Iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy is the most common type of anemia experienced by pregnant women. Women with too few red blood cells can get iron-deficiency anemia. Healthy nutrition prior to pregnancy can help prevent an iron deficiency that leads to this type of anemia.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency: A Vitamin B12 deficiency in pregnancy can also lead to anemia. Vitamin B12 helps make red blood cells and protein. Eating milk, eggs, meats, and poultry, can prevent vitamin B12 deficiency. Women most at risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency are those who do not consume milk, eggs, meat or poultry. For example, vegans often require vitamin B12 shots during pregnancy.
- Folate (folic acid) deficiency: A folic acid deficiency during pregnancy is the cause of the third main type of anemia. A folate is a B vitamin that assists cell growth. A lack of folate can lead to iron deficiency. Maintaining healthy levels of folic acid before pregnancy and in early pregnancy can help lower the risk of a baby being born with certain birth defects that affect the brain and spinal cord.
How Does Anemia Affect Pregnancy?
Anemia that is severe or left untreated can lead to a baby born prematurely or with low birth weight, the need for a blood transfusion during pregnancy, and an increased risk for postpartum depression.
How Common is Anemia in Pregnancy?
Some pregnant women experience iron deficiency, the leading cause of anemia in pregnancy. Most cases of anemia during pregnancy are mild.
You may not notice symptoms of anemia in pregnancy unless your red blood count is extremely low, or your pregnancy-related anemia is severe.
Common symptoms of anemia during pregnancy include:
- Difficulty focusing
- Cold hands
- Cold feet
- Pale skin
- Pale lips
- Pale nails
- Pale underside of your eyelids
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling tired
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
Diagnosis of anemia in pregnancy typically occurs during a routine blood test at one of your prenatal exams. However, there are other ways to diagnose anemia.
Other tests to diagnose anemia during pregnancy:
- Hemoglobin Blood Test. This test measures Hemoglobin, which is a component of blood that carries oxygen from the lungs to other areas of the body.
- Hematocrit Blood Test. This test gauges the percentage of red blood cells in a specified amount of blood.
There are several potential causes of anemia in pregnancy. All the causes are rooted in a low number of healthy red blood cells. A diet lacking iron can causes a low red blood cell count. Heavy bleeding from a blood donation, polyp, ulcer, or menstruation can also lead to a deficiency in red blood cells. During pregnancy, the body consumes more iron than usual to increase the blood volume. Therefore, without nutritional supplements to replace iron in the body, pregnancy can create the conditions for anemia.
The risks of anemia during pregnancy include:
- B12 deficiency (for example, vegans).
- Pregnant with twins (or more).
- Two pregnancies close to each other.
- High volume of blood loss from heavy periods.
- Vomiting from morning sickness.
- Not absorbing enough iron from diet, supplements, or prenatal vitamins.
- Weight loss surgery
- Having Crohn’s disease (inflamed bowel)
- Having Celiac disease (immune disease where you cannot eat gluten)
Anemia is common during pregnancy and very treatable. Management of anemia during pregnancy typically involves taking supplements and changing your diet. For iron deficiencies, your doctor may prescribe iron supplements along with adding foods rich in iron and folic acid to your diet. For B12 deficiencies, your doctor will likely prescribe B12 supplements along with adding animal foods like eggs, meat, and milk to your diet. Your doctor may also want to take additional blood tests to monitor your levels of iron, folic acid and B12.
How to prevent anemia during pregnancy
You can prevent anemia during pregnancy by eating a healthy, balanced diet high in iron. If you are vegan, we recommend that you talk to your doctor about taking B12 supplements.
The following foods are rich in iron:
- Turnip Greens
- Green peas
- Lima Beans
- Dry beans
- Black-eyed Peas
- Pinto beans
- Baked beans
In addition, consider including in your diet yeast-leavened whole-wheat bread and rolls, and white bread, pasta, rice, and cereals enriched with iron.
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