Anemia During Pregnancy

What is anemia during pregnancy?

Anemia is a condition in which you do not have enough healthy red blood cells. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, you cannot get enough oxygen to other cells in your body. Your cells need oxygen to work properly. Your body needs iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid to make healthy red blood cells.

Severe anemia when you are pregnant may slow your baby’s growth or result in early delivery of your baby. Also, because anemia makes you weaker, you will not recover as quickly from bleeding, infection, or other possible complications of delivery. If you bleed heavily at delivery or you need to have a C-section (an operation that delivers your baby through a cut in your belly and uterus), anemia may make it more likely that you will need a blood transfusion.

What is the cause?

Your body needs more blood when you are pregnant to help your baby grow. Most anemia during pregnancy is caused from an increased need for iron. You need more iron because your body is making more blood. Your diet may not provide enough iron to meet your needs. Also, the growing baby takes all the iron it needs from you, no matter how much or how little you have in your system.

Sometimes anemia during pregnancy is caused by a low level of one of the B vitamins. Stomach or intestinal illness, some medicines, and some problems you are born with can keep your body from absorbing vitamin B12. If you have a vegetarian diet, you may not get enough B12 from the food you eat. Folic acid, also called folate, is another kind of B vitamin. Anemia can happen when you don’t get enough folic acid in your diet. Not enough folic acid during early pregnancy can cause birth defects, such as spina bifida, in which the spinal column does not completely close before birth

What are the symptoms?

Your symptoms may not be obvious. Or you may think your symptoms are normal symptoms of pregnancy. Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Having a sore mouth or tongue
  • Muscle aches
  • Having trouble concentrating and doing well at work
  • Having trouble fighting off infections
  • Craving ice or cold vegetables (a symptom called pica)

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You will have a blood test.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on the cause of anemia. Anemia caused by a lack of iron is usually treated with iron tablets. Lack of vitamin B12 or folic acid can be treated with vitamin supplements. If you are anemic even though you are taking supplements, your healthcare provider may give you shots of iron or vitamins.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider
  • Eat a healthy diet. Include foods that are high in iron, such as meat, beans, and fortified breakfast cereals. Also include foods high in folic acid, such as dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, beans, and peas.
  • If you take iron pills, they may cause constipation or upset your stomach. If you have these problems, it may help to:
    • Drink more fluids.
    • Add more fiber to your diet by eating whole-grain bread and cereal, beans, bran muffins, brown rice, and fresh fruit and vegetables.
    • Take your pills at mealtime.
    • Take stool softeners if they are recommended by your healthcare provider.
  • Ask your provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent anemia during pregnancy?

  • Take prenatal vitamins as prescribed by your healthcare provider throughout your pregnancy.
  • Eat foods high in iron and vitamin C. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. Often, foods that are high in iron are also good sources of folic acid. Foods that are high in iron include:
    • Red meat, liver, and kidney
    • Beans
    • Leafy green vegetables
    • Dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, and apricots
    • Prune juice
  • If you take iron pills, take them 1 hour before or 2 hours after antacids, coffee, tea, dairy products, eggs, or whole grain breads. These products may keep your body from absorbing the iron.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-06
Last reviewed: 2014-09-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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