Pregnancy is a time of great joy and celebration. However, before your little bundle of joy makes an appearance, you will have to deal with the rigors of the pregnancy itself, plus a host of pregnancy complications. Anemia in pregnancy is one of the pregnancy complications that affects several women.
While anemia in pregnancy is not one of the serious or fatal pregnancy complications, it nevertheless affects your health and can thus affect either your pregnancy or your baby to some degree if it is left undiagnosed and thus untreated. After all, the good health of both mother and baby is what constitutes an ideal pregnancy. If there is a chance of developing some pregnancy complications, you should learn as much as you can about them so you can take preventive measures if possibles, and curative measures if not.
So let’s take a look at why anemia in pregnancy is so common, what causes it, and what you can do to prevent it during your pregnancy or to make it go away if you already have it.
What is Anemia?
Our blood is composed of red blood cells and white blood cells, in addition to plasma and platelets. Each of these has its unique set of functions which are crucial to the life and optimal functioning of the body. Anemia is a condition that affects the red blood cells, although there are variation of anemia in which all the parts of the blood are affected. But the most common form of anemia during pregnancy affects the red blood cells, which is what we will be discussing in this article.
Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to every part of your body. Without oxygen, your organs cannot function. Additionally, red blood cells also remove the carbon dioxide from the body. You body cannot and will not survive for long without these two simple functions of the red blood cells. Any change in the quantity or quality of the red blood cells can cause problems.
Anemia occurs when the number of red blood cells gets reduced for some reason, or when there is not enough hemoglobin in a normal count of red blood cells. Hemoglobin is a protein that is rich in iron. It is what makes your blood look bright red. When there is a lack of either hemoglobin or red blood cells, your essential organs like your heart and brain are not receiving the oxygen that they need. The body may thus try to conserve its energy in any way possible, which will leave you feeling very tired and sometimes disoriented.
When you are pregnant, your whole body has a ton more work to do as compared to when you weren’t. It’s no different for your red blood cells. It is estimated that there is almost 50% more blood in your body when you are pregnant. And your blood has to meet the very high demands of your growing baby’s iron needs as well. With so much work on its shoulders, anemia in pregnancy is almost inevitable. Anemia is sometimes called ‘tired blood’ – an apt moniker.
Anemia in pregnancy is actually very common in the pregnancy second trimester and pregnancy third trimester. In fact, anemia is even otherwise a common condition, affecting both men and women equally at some point in their lives. Anemia in pregnancy is not a dangerous condition and it is easily treatable. But if anemia is left unchecked and untreated for long periods of time, it can get severe enough to be life-threatening. That is why it is important to see your doctor immediately if you experience symptoms of anemia in pregnancy, or even otherwise.
Complications of Anemia in Pregnancy
The effects of anemia in pregnancy are usually down-played and not very well documented. But doctors are realizing that anemia in pregnancy should be researched more thoroughly after some of the complications that they have seen arising from it.
- Women who have anemia in pregnancy may require a blood transfusion after the baby is delivered as they are likely to lose more blood than is normal.
- If you have anemia in pregnancy, you are putting your baby at higher risk of having anemia after birth or during childhood.
- The foetus normally stocks up on iron before birth to see it through for a few months after it is born. When you have anemia in pregnancy, the ‘stock’ may be lower, thus making your baby more vulnerable to the effects of iron deficiency.
- Anemia in pregnancy can also make you more susceptible to illness as it affects your immune system.
- Your baby may be born prematurely or with low birth weight if you have anemia in pregnancy.
- Some studies have identified a link between anemia in pregnancy and stillbirth.
- There is another school of thought which suggests that women with anemia in pregnancy are likely to suffer from postpartum depression.
- Depending on the severity of your anemia in pregnancy, your doctor may not be able to administer certain pain management medication like an epidural.
Keep in mind that when you are pregnant, you and your baby are one. So every aspect of your physical and mental health will end up affecting your baby. It is thus in the best interests of your baby’s future that you take care of your health, and immediately deal with the seemingly normal problem of anemia in pregnancy.
Causes for Anemia in Pregnancy
So why does anemia in pregnancy happen? You never had anemia before and you are eating the same diet you did before you got pregnant. In fact, you probably eat healthier now because you are so concerned for your baby’s health. So why is anemia affecting you during your pregnancy when it never has before? The truth is that pregnancy actually increases your chances of developing anemia.
Iron deficiency: Anemia itself usually occurs due to an iron deficiency. Your blood cells need iron to produce hemoglobin. When you are pregnant, your body needs more reserves of iron than it ever did before. So a lack of iron in the food you eat can cause anemia in pregnancy. Since it is not always possible to get the recommended amount of iron from food, doctors prescribe iron supplements to all pregnant women. You can get away with borderline iron requirements when you are not pregnant. But during pregnancy, your iron requirements rapidly increase as your body produces more blood and the baby and placenta place their own demands for iron. If the requirements are not met by the body, you become anemic.
Other deficiency: If you are not meeting your body’s demands for extra Vitamin B12 and folic acid, you could develop anemia in pregnancy.
Loss of blood: If you have internal hemorrhaging or lose a lot of blood due to an accident or pregnancy complications, you can develop anemia in pregnancy.
Disease: There are certain inherited blood disorders which can cause anemia in pregnancy. A couple of examples include sickle cell disease and thalassemia. Other chronic illnesses like cancer or kidney failure can also cause anemia in pregnancy.
Risk Factors for Anemia in Pregnancy
Like all other pregnancy complications, there are certain factors that increase your risk of developing anemia in pregnancy.
- Morning sickness increases your risk of anemia in pregnancy. Morning sickness usually occurs during the pregnancy first trimester. Most women do not start out with enough reserves of iron to meet the rapidly increasing requirements of the body. Morning sickness can take a toll on the body and cause the minimal iron reserves you do have to be depleted.
- If any of your pregnancies were too close together, you are at higher risk of anemia in pregnancy.
- Women who are pregnant with two or more babies are at higher risk for anemia in pregnancy.
- Your risk for anemia in pregnancy increases with each subsequent pregnancy.
- If you had a heavy period before you got pregnant, the chances that you will develop anemia in pregnancy are quite high.
- Had a poor diet before you got pregnant? Your risk of developing anemia in pregnancy just got higher.
- If you went on drastic diets to lose weight before you got pregnant or if you are trying to lose weight after you conceived, you will very likely develop anemia in pregnancy.
- A history of eating disorders or blood disorders also increases your risk of anemia in pregnancy.
Symptoms of Anemia in Pregnancy
If you have anemia in pregnancy, you will feel very tired and run down. Not just physically, but mentally as well. You may find it very difficult to complete daily chores. You may not want to get out of bed in the morning. And you may lose interest in activities that you earlier enjoyed, and find that you get irritable very easily. These are also symptoms of depression during pregnancy. So if you are experiencing them, your doctor will suggest a blood test first to ascertain whether it is anemia or depression.
- A couple of blood tests will show reduced numbers of red blood cells or a low count of hemoglobin if you have anemia in pregnancy.
- You may experience some dizziness, weakness, and even fainting if you have anemia in pregnancy.
- Some women with anemia in pregnancy experience shortness of breath, a faster heartbeat than is normal even without physical exertion, and pale skin.
- Recent studies have shown that women who have pica (unusual craving for clay, chalk, paper and other non-food items) most likely have anemia in pregnancy. So if you have been wanting to nibble on a piece of dry wall, as your doctor to test you for anemia.
- Low body temperature may be an indication of anemia in pregnancy.
Treatment for Anemia in Pregnancy
Since anemia in pregnancy is so common, your doctor will talk to you about it very early on and have you taking the necessary measures to prevent the problem from developing in the first place. However, if you do have anemia in pregnancy, it can be treated quite easily provided it is diagnosed accurately.
You have nothing to worry about if you develop anemia in pregnancy. As mentioned earlier, it is quite common to have anemia in pregnancy and as long as you recognize the symptoms and are diagnosed for it early on, you can easily cure yourself of it. The treatment for anemia in pregnancy will depend on how severe your case is.
- Iron supplements are often prescribed as part of the treatment for anemia in pregnancy if the cause of the condition is iron deficiency. But do not depend on these alone. It is better to get as much iron as possible from the food you eat. More importantly though, iron supplements have known side effects like digestion problems. That being said, you will still be required to take between 60 and 120 mg (milligrams) of iron a day till your anemia stabilizes. The amount may be reduced then if your doctor allows it. You may also need to take additional supplements for Vitamin B12 and folic acid.
Do not take your iron supplements with milk as it hinders absorption into the bloodstream. Take it with plain water, or better still, orange juice. The vitamin C in the orange juice helps the blood to absorb the iron.
- As for your diet, you will need to make a few changes to ensure that you are getting iron-rich foods. The foods that are best for anemia in pregnancy are discussed toward the end of this article.
- If the cause for your anemia in pregnancy is a blood disorder, then the disorder will have to be treated to manage the anemia.
- If loss of blood is the reason for anemia in pregnancy, then you may need a blood transfusion in addition to the traditional methods of treatment.
Prevention of Anemia in Pregnancy
Of all the pregnancy complications, anemia in pregnancy is the easiest on to prevent simply because it is completely within your control. With a combination of the right foods and iron supplements, you can beat anemia in pregnancy before it has had a chance to take a toll on you or your baby. Of course, if the reason for your anemia in pregnancy is an inherited blood disorder, then it will have to be treated first to prevent the condition from developing.
Medication: Before you are pregnant, you need about 18 mg of iron a day. During pregnancy, this number shoots up to 27 mg. These may look like very small numbers to you, but it is actually quite difficult to meet the requirement if you are not taking iron supplements as well. Your doctor will prescribe about 30 mg a day via supplements. Your other prenatal supplements also have some amount of iron in them.
Since iron deficiency is not the only cause for anemia in pregnancy, it is best to be up to date on other vitamins and minerals as well. Talk to your doctor about taking B12 supplements and folic acid.
Food: Although iron supplements will help you tackle anemia in pregnancy, there is no substitute for getting your iron from natural foods. Certain foods are higher in iron content than others. Following are some of the dos and donts of diet if you want to avoid anemia in pregnancy. And remember that it is never too soon to start eating iron-rich foods. A healthier pre-pregnancy diet can prevent some pregnancy complications.
What to Eat to Prevent Anemia in Pregnancy
To prevent anemia in pregnancy, make sure that you are getting enough iron from the foods you eat. All fruits and vegetables have some iron content. But the ones that are specifically iron rich include green, leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, coriander, spinach, kale, and fruits like strawberries, oranges, prunes, and grapefruit’ any fruits with Vitamin C are good for you as they assist your body in absorbing the iron you get from other foods.
Beans, peas, legumes, lentils, and iron-enriched grains and cereals are a powerhouse of nutrition to prevent anemia in pregnancy. Non-vegetarians can try beef chicken, shellfish, sardines, pork, lamb, and turkey. For a snack, a handful of nuts, seeds and dried fruit will provide your body with the required quantities of iron to prevent anemia in pregnancy. Remember to eat a variety of foods for your requirements if possible. Do not depend on just one food group to do all the work of preventing anemia in pregnancy.
What Not to Eat To Prevent Anemia in Pregnancy
Avoid coffee, tea and soda during pregnancy to avoid not just anemia but other pregnancy complications as well. The caffeine is known to inhibit the release of iron in the blood. The calcium from milk and other dairy products is known to do the same. So do not consume dairy products at the same time as the iron-rich foods; you can have them between meals though. Other foods that prevent your body from absorbing iron include soy and eggs.
Cook your food in cast iron pots and pans. Research has shown that food that is prepared this way has a higher iron content than food prepared in other types of utensils.