Anemia in Pregnancy
By Dr. David Choi
Having anemia means your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues. And during pregnancy, women are more susceptible to anemia. It’s important to get enough iron or certain other nutrients so your body is able to produce the amount of red blood cells needed to make this additional blood. If you don’t, you are at risk for anemia.
While it’s normal to have mild anemia when you’re pregnant, some are at risk for more severe anemia from low iron or vitamin levels or from other reasons. If left untreated, a pregnant woman experiencing significant anemia can increase her risk of serious complications like preterm delivery.
Symptoms of Anemia During Pregnancy:
- Feeling weak / tired
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
- Trouble concentrating
- Pale skin, lips, and nails
In the early stages of anemia, you may not have obvious symptoms and may even have symptoms similar to those other pregnant women feel who aren’t anemic. It’s important to contact your provider and get your routine blood tests to check for anemia at your prenatal appointments.
Untreated or Severe Anemia Can Lead To:
- Pre-term delivery
- Low-birth-weight baby
- Blood transfusion (if significant loss of blood during delivery)
- Postpartum depression
- Baby with a serious birth defect of the spine or brain (neural tube defects)
Tests for Anemia
- Hemoglobin – measures amount of iron-rich protein in red blood cells that carry oxygen from lungs to tissues throughout the body
- Hematocrit – measures percentage of red blood cells present in a blood sample
A negative test result in the early part of pregnancy does not mean you can’t develop anemia later in the pregnancy, so your midwife/doctor will likely check your blood again in the 2nd or 3rd trimesters. And if you experience any anemia-type symptoms, it’s important for you to share that information with your provider so he/she can consider testing you again earlier.
Treatment for Anemia
Iron supplements and/or folic acid supplements in addition to prenatal vitamins are a typical treatment. Your midwife / doctor may also suggest for you to add more iron-rich and folic-acid-rich foods to your diet. Or if you’re experience a vitamin B12 deficiency, then your midwife / doctor may recommend a B12 supplement. Additional blood tests will likely be requested to continue to monitor your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels. And remember your pre-natal vitamins throughout your pregnancy. You should also talk to your doctor about continuing these post-partum and while breastfeeding to insure your continued health.
Looking for some great iron-rich food sources? Check these out, and try to get at least 3 servings/day:
- Poultry, fish and lean red meat
- leafy, dark green vegetables (parsley, spinach, broccoli, kale, etc)
- nuts and seeds
- baked potatoes
- iron-enriched grains / cereals
- beans, lentils, and tofu
Vitamin C is known to help your body absorb more iron. So here are some suggested Vitamin C rich foods to consume at the same time you’re eating iron-rich foods: citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, kiwis, cantaloupe, guava, brussel sprouts, tomatoes and tomato juice, and bell peppers
Looking for foods rich in folic acid? Try these:
- leafy green vegetables (broccoli, romaine lettuce, brussel sprouts, asparagus, etc)
- foods with yeast
- citrus fruits and juices
- fortified breads and cereals
- beans (pinto, black, kidney, garbanzo, etc)