Anemia is a blood condition that develops when the blood does not have enough red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs contain hemoglobin, a protein responsible for carrying oxygen within the body(1). Having less than the necessary number of RBCs in the circulating blood makes it difficult to supply enough oxygen and iron to the mother and the fetus (2). It can affect the functions of the maternal muscle and nerve cells and also affect the developing baby’s health.
While anemia can be managed and most mothers with anemia have an uneventful pregnancy, timely intervention plays a key role. Read this post to know more about the types, causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of anemia in pregnancy.
Types Of Anemia During Pregnancy
1. Iron-deficiency anemia
- The baby uses maternal red blood cells for growth and development during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester.
- The mother’s body uses the extra blood cells stored in the bone marrow before pregnancy to provide herself and the baby with nutrition.
- Women with insufficient iron stores in the bone marrow may develop iron deficiency anemia.
- It is the most common type of anemia in pregnancy, and approximately 15% to 25% of all pregnant women experience it.
- A balanced nutritious diet before and during pregnancy can help replenish the iron stores in the mother’s bone marrow.
2. Folate-deficiency anemia
- Folate (folic acid) is a type of vitamin B, which in combination with iron, helps in cell growth.
- Insufficient folate during pregnancy can also cause iron deficiency.
- Folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy help reduce the risk of having a baby with brain and spinal cord defects.
3. Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia
- Vitamin B12 is essential in making protein and red blood cells.
- Milk and eggs are examples of a few food items rich in vitamin B12.
- Women who do not eat animal products (vegan) are more prone to develop vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Vegans or women with severe vitamin B12 deficiency may often need to get vitamin B-12 injections during pregnancy.
4. Anemia of pregnancy
- Pregnancy leads to an increased blood volume.
- Therefore, more iron and vitamins are needed to make sufficient red blood cells.
- Insufficient iron may cause anemia. However, it is not considered abnormal unless the red blood cell count falls too low.
Symptoms Of Anemia In Pregnancy
The symptoms of anemia in pregnancy often go unnoticed as they can be mild initially. However, the symptoms become more pronounced as the anemia progresses. The following symptoms may indicate the possibility of anemia in pregnant women (1)(3).
- Paleness of skin, lips, nails, or palms
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Sore and red tongue
- Ulcers in the mouth
- Pins and needles (paraesthesia)
- Altered style of walking and moving around
- Blurred vision
- Diminished mental abilities (memory, understanding, and judgment)
- Cold hands and feet
- Trouble with concentration
- Diminishedtaste sensation
- Muscle weakness
Causes Of Iron-deficiency Anemia During Pregnancy
The quality and the number of red blood cells produced by the body determine if the woman will develop anemia. During pregnancy, the plasma volume increases faster than the rate at which red blood cells are produced in the body.
The form and production of red blood cells can be affected for the following reasons, and it may lead to anemia (3).
- A lack of iron in the diet or inability of the body to absorb iron from the consumed food.
- Heavy bleeding due to an ulcer, a polyp, blood donation, or an injury may lead to red blood cells getting destroyed faster than the rate at which they can be replenished.
- Pregnancy itself may cause iron deficiency anemia because the iron being produced is used by the woman’s body to increase her blood volume. Therefore, there may be less iron in the mother’s blood to supply to the developing fetus in such scenarios.
Effects Of Anemia On Pregnancy And Baby
While most pregnant women with anemia have a healthy pregnancy and deliver healthy babies, some women may have the following complications (1).
- Premature birth
- Low birthweight
- Placental abruption
- Problems related to blood loss during labor
- Iron deficiency in the newborn for the first three months
- Issues with the baby’s mental development
Mild anemia is normal during pregnancy. However, more severe anemia can put both the mother’s and child’s health at risk (5).
Risk Factors For Anemia During Pregnancy
The following factors could put a woman at a higher risk of developing anemia during pregnancy (4).
- Vegetarian and vegan imbalanced diets
- Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease may cause loss of excess blood
- History of a weight loss surgery (a part of or the entire stomach surgically removed)
- Shorter gaps between two consecutive pregnancies
- Pregnancies with multiple children
- Frequent vomiting due to morning sickness
- Insufficient iron and vitamins in the diet
- Heavy periods before pregnancy
Treatment For Anemia During Pregnancy
The treatment of anemia depends on the symptoms, age, overall condition, and severity.
Treatment of iron deficiency includes taking iron supplements. Some iron supplements are sustained-release, while the others might need to be consumed several times a day. Some women with severe anemia may need a blood transfusion.
Taking iron supplements with citrus juice, such as orange juice, can help your body absorb iron better. Consuming antacids with iron supplements can make it difficult for the body to absorb iron. You must have iron supplements in the dosage prescribed by your doctor to minimize side effects such as nausea, constipation, and green- or black-colored stools (3)(4).
Prevention Of Anemia During Pregnancy
Anemia can be easily prevented by making certain changes and additions to the daily diet. The experts at the American Pregnancy Association recommend that a pregnant woman eat 30mg of iron each day. It can be achieved by consuming at least three servings of iron-rich food every day.
- Meat: Beef, pork, lamb, liver, organ meats
- Poultry: Chicken, duck, turkey
- Low-mercury fish: Shellfish, fully cooked clams, mussels, oysters, sardines, anchovies, salmon, shrimp, pollock, cod, tilapia, tuna, catfish
- Dark, leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale, broccoli, turnip greens, collards
- Legumes: Lima beans, green peas, dry beans, peas, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, low-sodium canned baked beans
- Foods rich in vitamin C: Citrus fruits, berries, kiwis, tomatoes, bell peppers
- Bread, pasta, rice, and cereals enriched with iron
- Nuts and seeds
- Yeast-leavened whole-wheat bread and rolls
Anemia in pregnancy can be common, but it is manageable without any complications in most women. After childbirth, the blood volume and plasma levels return to normal levels. If you feel any of the symptoms that may indicate anemia during your pregnancy, it should be brought to your doctor’s notice. Eating a balanced diet and consuming prescribed amounts of supplements can help you prevent serious complications.
- Anaemia and pregnancy.
- Anemia in Pregnancy.
- Anemia During Pregnancy.
- Anemia in Pregnancy.
- Anemia and Pregnancy.