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Combat Anemia in Pregnancy

Katlyn Joy |26, January 2015


Anemia is common in pregnancy. According to the Merck Manual, up to one-third of all pregnant women in the third trimester have it, typically due to either iron or folate deficiency.

In pregnancy, your body changes a great deal, but when it comes to blood, the changes are quite significant. The level of blood in your body increases by 20 to 30 percent, and the need for blood building iron and vitamins also increases. You need iron and certain vitamins to produce hemoglobin. This is the protein in red blood cells is responsible for transporting oxygen to the body's other cells.

Who is at Risk for Anemia in Pregnancy?

The Mayo Clinic identifies the following as risk factors:

  • You had heavier than normal periods prior to pregnancy
  • You are pregnant soon after a previous pregnancy
  • You are carrying twins or more
  • Have an iron deficient diet
  • Have significant morning sickness resulting in frequent vomiting
  • Having an illness such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia

What are the Symptoms of Anemia?

Anemia is not something you should shrug off. It is linked to prematurity and low birth weight, as well as postpartum infection in mothers.

Look for these symptoms, especially if you know you are at risk for anemia. Keep in mind you will often have anemia for awhile before manifesting any symptoms.

  • Fatigue is probably the most common symptom, but of course, that's a normal pregnancy symptom as well.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headache. This can also signal a serious condition, pre-eclampsia, so if you are having a lot of headaches, be sure to mention it to your physician.
  • Pale skin.
  • Cold hands and feet.
  • Chest pain and irregular heartbeat.
  • Trouble concentrating.

How is Anemia Diagnosed?

Even if you don't have any history or symptoms to suspect anemia while pregnant, you will have a blood test to check your complete blood count (CBC) in your first prenatal visit to. This blood test checks both your hemoglobin and your hemocrit, which measures your red blood cells.

If your levels are under 10 g/dL you will need treatment for anemia. If your levels are under 11.5 you will probably receive preemptive treatment to head off anemia. If your levels are acceptable at the prenatal visit, you will still be checked once or twice more, probably in the second and last trimester, just to be certain. However, if you have symptoms, you'll be rechecked whenever they occur.

What Can You Do to Prevent Anemia While Pregnant?

The main way to prevent anemia is to eat a nutritious diet. Make certain you get a minimum of 27mg of iron a day. While your prenatal vitamin may help, you may need additional iron supplementation if your iron levels are low. Eating iron-rich foods is important though, as well.

Aim to consume the following foods regularly:

  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dried beans and fruits
  • Iron-fortified cereals, pastas and breads
  • Organ meat such as liver
  • Seafood like clams, sardines and oysters
  • Red meat
  • Tofu
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Leafy dark green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli

When you are trying to increase iron intake through your diet, make sure you also eat foods or drinks with high levels of vitamin C to help the absorption of iron. These include orange juice, strawberries, tomatoes, grapefruit, citrus fruits in general, kiwis, and bell peppers.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you should discuss your nutrition intake with a dietician or physician. You may need supplementation for vitamin B12, since you will most likely be unable to get sufficient amounts through your diet.

One thing you have to keep in mind is that calcium, another important dietary choice while pregnant, blocks the absorption of iron. Be sure not to eat your high iron foods while eating or drinking calcium rich products such as milk, or other dairy products, egg yolks, coffee, tea or fiber and soybeans.

If you receive iron supplements, don't take with orange juice, or on an empty stomach. Also, don't take your iron supplement when taking an antacid.

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