Anemia during Pregnancy
iron is essential
for the formation of healthy red blood cells, and for both fetal demands and the
large increase in maternal blood volume. Pregnant women should eat a range of
iron-rich foods in order to prevent an iron deficiency.
Anemia is an abnormally low level of red blood cells and hemoglobin in the
blood. It is common during pregnancy.
Around the 20th week, some pregnant women become anemic.
This is due to the increased need for iron because the body is making
Women who are anemic before pregnancy may continue to have problems
during their pregnancy.
Besides, often the diet alone does not provide enough iron to meet the
needs (27mg per day).
Also, the growing baby takes all the iron it needs from you, regardless
of how much you have in your system.
Sometimes anemia during pregnancy is caused by a lack of one of the
and folic acid.
Symptoms of Anemia
Out of Breath
Finally, some studies have found a link between severe iron-deficiency
anemia and cravings for non-food substances such as ice, paper, or clay (a
condition known as pica). If you do have these cravings, don't give in to
them, and be sure to tell your healthcare provider
If you remain anemic during the first two trimesters, though, you're at a
higher risk for having a preterm delivery or a low-birthweight baby, so it is
something to take seriously. And if you're severely deficient, it could affect
your baby's iron stores at birth, increasing his risk for anemia later in
infancy. If you're anemic later in pregnancy, you're more likely to have
problems if you lose a lot of blood when you give birth. You may feel dizzy,
have a rapid heart rate, or have other symptoms that require you to stay in the
hospital an extra day or two. You're also more likely to need a blood
Test for Anemia
One test for determination of anemia is the complete blood count (CBC), a
test that provides the physician with information on the number, size and
appearance of red blood cells. The iron component, hemoglobin, and hematocrit
are also measured in a CBC. The hematocrit is the percentage by volume of RBCs
in the blood and can indicate possible anemia. From the blood smear portion of a
CBC, RBC morphology can be evaluated for cell color, size, and shape.
How Much Iron Should You Get During Your Pregnancy?
You needed about 15mg of iron per day pre-conception, which is a fair
amount. Many women who aren't pregnant do not even reach the RDA each day. Now
that you are pregnant you will need almost twice the amount of iron per day.
Your health care provider might advise you to take an iron supplement to try and
bring your iron levels up to what they should be. To make sure you absorb as
much of the iron as possible, take your iron pills on an empty stomach. Wash
them down with water or orange juice (the
vitamin C helps with absorption) but
not with milk (calcium hinders absorption).
A supplement that contains 325 mg of ferrous sulfate
will give you about 60 mg of elemental iron. Others use
ferrous gluconate, another iron salt that's gentler on
the stomach, 300 mg of which yields about 34 mg of
If you do experience digestive issues, you may want to ask your doctor about a carbonyl iron
supplement. Carbonyl iron is the only form of iron naturally regulated by the body, providing a more
gradual and gentle absorption of iron. This slow absorption helps to minimize side-effects associated
with iron supplements,
without compromising effectiveness.
Be aware that taking iron supplements can often cause constipation,
and vomiting, so try not to rely solely on iron supplements and eat a
Food Sources of Iron
Dietary iron comes in 2 forms - heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is
found only in animal tissues, whilst plant foods contain only non-heme iron.
Non-heme iron is less easily absorbed by the body than heme iron. As a rough
guide, the amount of iron absorbed is about 10-20 percent from animal foods and
1-10 percent from plant foods.
Good sources of iron for vegetarians include wholegrain cereals/flours, leafy
green vegetables, eggs, blackstrap molasses, legumes (eg. lentils, red beans),
apricots and figs.
All iron absorption, but especially that of non-heme iron is boosted (by up to
600 percent) when the iron-rich meal includes a source of vitamin C, like orange
juice, cauliflower, dark leafy vegetables, tomatoes or citrus fruit.
Plant foods that contain phytates and oxalates (eg.
spinach, rhubarb, chard, and beet greens) can reduce
iron absorption. A similar problem can be triggered by
eating too much wheat bran, or drinking too much tea.
What can I do to prevent anemia during pregnancy?
Take vitamin pills with iron as prescribed by your health care provider
throughout your pregnancy.
Don't take iron pills with milk because it may prevent the iron from
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
Foods that are high in iron include:
▪ liver, kidney, and red meat
▪ dried beans
▪ leafy green vegetables
▪ dried fruits such as raisins,
prunes, and apricots
▪ prune juice
▪ bread, pasta, cereal, and other
foods made from fortified, enriched, or whole grains
One note of caution: Don't turn to liver for your iron needs. Liver is best
avoided during pregnancy because it contains unsafe amounts of
vitamin A, which
can cause birth defects.