In pregnancy, your body goes through significant changes. The amount of blood (plasma) volume in your body increases by about 40-50 percent (22) which increases the supply of iron and vitamins that the body needs to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to all the cells in your body.(23)
Many women lack a sufficient amount of iron needed for the second and third trimesters. When your body needs more iron than it has available, you can become anemic. Anemia is defined as a decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. (23)
Mild anemia is normal during pregnancy due to an increase in blood volume. More severe anemia, however, can put your baby at higher risk for anemia later in infancy. In addition, if you are significantly anemic during your first two trimesters, you are at greater risk for having a pre-term delivery or low-birth-weight baby. Being anemic also burdens the mother by increasing the risk of blood loss during labor. (23)
Am I at Risk?
- You are at higher risk for becoming anemic during your pregnancy if you:(23)
- Have two pregnancies close together?
- Are pregnant with more than one child
- Are vomiting frequently due to morning sickness?
- Do not consume enough iron
- Have a heavy pre-pregnancy menstrual flow
- Passage of worms
Many of the symptoms of anemia during pregnancy are also symptoms you may experience even if you are not anemic; these include:
- Feeling tired or weak
- Progressive paleness of the skin
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble concentrating
- Passage of worms
- Dizziness or light headedness
Doctors typically perform several tests to check the number of red blood cells in your blood and the amount of haemoglobin in your blood. These are indicators of whether you are at risk of becoming anemic.
Haemoglobin levels to diagnose anemia (g/dl) (4)
Is Pregnancy-Related Anemia Preventable?
Good nutrition is the best way to prevent anemia if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Eating foods high in iron content (such as dark green leafy vegetables, red meat, fortified cereals, eggs, and peanuts) can help ensure that you maintain the supply of iron your body needs to function properly. Your obstetrician will also prescribe supplements to ensure that you have enough iron and folic acid. Anemia during pregnancy can be treated by oral or injectable irons according to your Hb level.
Ask your doctor
About your risk for anemia and make sure you are tested at your first prenatal visit. You also may want to get tested four to six weeks after delivery.