Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2020
What is anemia in pregnancy?
Early symptoms of anemia may be confused for normal pregnancy symptoms, such as tiredness, weakness, headaches, dizziness, and irritability.
Anemia occurs when not enough hemoglobin is produced. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein in your blood that transports oxygen. This means your body is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood if you’re anemic. During pregnancy, your body needs iron to help your baby grow. Pregnant women actually need twice as much iron to support a healthy birth weight and development.
If you are not getting enough iron, you may have shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, or irregular heartbeat. Mild anemia is common and can occur in anyone. Some people have a higher risk for anemia, including:
- Pregnant women
- Women during their menstrual periods
- People who donate blood frequently
- People who take certain medications or treatments
Anemia during pregnancy can raise the risk of premature birth or low-birth-weight for your baby. Premature birth can increase their risk for health and developmental problems. If you are experiencing severe anemia symptoms, you should talk to your doctor.
Signs and symptoms of anemia during pregnancy
Early symptoms of anemia may be confused for normal pregnancy symptoms. You may not realize you have anemia until your doctor diagnoses you. There are many symptoms you can look out for to identify anemia early:
- Excessive tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Numbness or cold feeling in your hands and feet
- Pale skin
- Chest pain
If any of these symptoms become overwhelming or you experience them with excessive bleeding, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Types of anemia during pregnancy
There are many types of anemia, but the four common types of anemia during pregnancy are:
Anemia of pregnancy
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases which means you need more iron and vitamins to make more red blood cells. Not enough iron could cause your red blood cell count to fall too low. Anemia of pregnancy can overlap and coincide with other types of anemia in pregnant women, particularly iron-deficiency anemia.
This is the most common type of anemia during pregnancy. It occurs when too little iron is produced. This anemia makes your body feel fatigued and can lower your resistance to infection.
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin and helps prevent neural tube defects of pregnancy. If you are folate-deficient your number of red blood cells might decrease, causing anemia.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency anemia
Not getting enough B-12 in your diet can make you irritable and keep your body and your pregnancy from developing properly.
Sickle cell disease is named after a farming tool.
Causes of anemia during pregnancy
There are many causes for anemia, but if you are experiencing anemia during pregnancy it could be for these reasons:
Iron lost through bleeding
Bleeding will cause you to lose more blood cells and iron than can be replaced by your body. Bleeding in women could be caused by:
- Digestive system problems
- Donating blood too often
- Regular, long-term use of aspirin or other over-the-counter pain relievers
- Spotting during pregnancy
- Uterine fibroids (benign tumors on the uterus)
Increased need For iron
During pregnancy, your body needs more iron to allow for healthy development of your baby. Iron levels that were enough before pregnancy may not be sufficient during pregnancy.
Not eating enough food with iron
Your body will get iron from animal-based foods like meat, chicken, and fish. If you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you’ll need to eat enough iron-rich food, like spinach, tofu, and some beans.
Crohn’s or celiac disease
If you have Crohn’s disease or celiac disease your body might have a harder time absorbing iron from food, putting you at higher risk to develop anemia.
Diagnosis of anemia during pregnancy
Your doctor will be able to see if you have anemia by running blood tests. They will check for two things:
This level naturally declines during pregnancy, and a certain amount of decline is considered anemia. It is not an entirely reliable predictor of iron levels, but iron levels usually decline with hemoglobin levels.
Ferritin is your body’s total iron stores. If you have anemia you will have extremely low values of ferritin. That value further decreases during pregnancy.
Once the doctor has tested for those they will determine if your red blood cell count is low. If it is, they will start you on a treatment plan for anemia during pregnancy.
Treatments for anemia during pregnancy
In most cases, your doctor will prescribe a daily iron supplement to treat your pregnancy-induced anemia. These will supplement your prenatal vitamins. In severe cases of anemia during pregnancy, your doctor may require a blood transfusion.
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Medically Reviewed on 12/14/2020
American Pregnancy Association: “Anemia During Pregnancy.”
Blood: “How I treat anemia in pregnancy: iron, cobalamin, and folate.”
Cedars-Sinai: “Anemia in Pregnancy.”
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Anemia.”
Office on Women’s Health: “Iron-deficiency anemia.”