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Anemia in Pregnancy: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Anemia in Pregnancy

Popular Opinion: Pregnancy is one of the most significant milestones for a majority of Indian women and rightly so. On the other hand, pregnancy is a slow and simple 9-month long process. Nonetheless, pregnancy causes a wide variety of changes to a woman’s body on the inside. Hosting and growing a baby is no easy task. Needless to say, it is filled with its own set of joys and challenges. One of the most common health challenges being anemia in pregnancy.

Anemia in pregnancy is a fairly common health issue affecting up to 52% of pregnant women worldwide. This health issue can further translate into grave concerns for you and your baby.

This article aims to shed some expert-approved light on the subject of iron deficiency in pregnancy. And how it affects an expecting mother and her baby and what can you do to prevent it.

The prevalence in developed countries is 14%, in developing countries 51%, and in India, it varies from 65% to 75%.

What is Anemia in Pregnancy?

Before we offer a credible action plan to help you prevent anemia, it is important to understand what this health problem is all about.

Anemia is a condition in which your blood does not have a sufficient number of healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells (RBCs) are essential to help transport oxygen to your fetus.

Mild anemia in pregnancy is highly prevalent. However, your healthcare provider would keep a close track of your health and offer you guidance on preventing or managing anemia.

What are the symptoms of Anemia in Pregnancy?

Listed below are some common signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in pregnancy:

  • Tiredness
  • Exhaustion
  • Headache
  • Progressive paleness or yellowing of skin, nails, lips
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Chest pain
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Difficulty in concentrating

Sometimes these symptoms are overlooked as they closely resemble regular signs of pregnancy. Irrespective of the severity of your symptoms, your healthcare provider will ask you to undergo certain tests during pregnancy to help diagnose anemia early.

What causes Anemia in Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, your body requires produces more blood in order to support the growth and development of your fetus. So the demand of blood in your body increases by nearly 20-30%.

However, sometimes sufficient iron is not available in your body to supply oxygen accordingly leading to anemia.  Most women experience an iron deficiency as their pregnancy progress towards the final trimester.

There are different types of anemia based on its cause:

  1. Iron-deficiency anemia: Iron deficiency in pregnancy is the most common type of anemia affecting pregnant women. During pregnancy, especially towards the last trimester, your body utilizes the extra red blood cells present in your bone marrow. Some women, however, do not have enough iron stored in the bone marrow and are likely to suffer from iron deficiency in pregnancy.
  2. Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient in the production of red blood cells. As a result deficiency of Vitamin B12 can impact the number of red blood cell in your body leading to anemia.
  3. Folate deficiency: Along with iron, folic acid is important to promote the growth of red blood cells. When your body experiences a folate deficiency, you can suffer from anemia.

Any expecting woman can develop anemia. However, your chances of developing this health concern increases if you:

  • Are a strict vegetarian
  • Have celiac disease or Crohn’s disease
  • Have had weight loss surgery
  • Are having multiple pregnancies
  • Have two pregnancies close together
  • Have severe morning sickness leading to vomiting
  • Are not eating enough iron
  • Had heavy periods before getting pregnant
  • Have a history of anemia before pregnancy

How does Iron deficiency in pregnancy affects the newborn?

Iron deficiency affects the newborn in several ways. When fetus does not get enough iron, the baby’s growth can become altered. Iron deficiency can impact your baby’s growth leading to preterm birth or low birth weight.

Other complications include developmental delays in the child, blood transfusion, increased risk of your baby developing anemia. Sometimes, severe cases of anemia can also cause serious birth defects of the spine or brain in the baby.

Furthermore, it can increase your chances of developing postpartum depression.

How is Anemia in Pregnancy diagnosed?

As mentioned before, the signs and symptoms of anemia in pregnancy are not sometimes easily identified. For the majority of women, anemia is diagnosed during routine prenatal tests and screenings.

Your routine prenatal screening will include the following blood test:

Hemoglobin test: Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein present in red blood cells. This protein is responsible for carrying oxygen to your body organs. A hemoglobin test measures the amount of this protein in your blood.

Hematocrit test: This test is a part of complete blood count (CBC) and measures the percentage of red blood cells in your body.

An iron deficiency in pregnancy is usually identified at this stage of your routine tests. Your doctor may order further testing to identify the cause of anemia. These tests are often recommended at the beginning of pregnancy and again during the second or third trimester.

How is Anemia in Pregnancy treated?

Every expecting mother experiences anemia in pregnancy differently. Your treatment plan will depend on your overall health, your age, the severity of your symptoms and others.

Your healthcare provider will offer medicinal treatment as well as lifestyle changes to help overcome the iron deficiency. He/she will administer prenatal supplements and iron tablets for pregnancy. Additionally, he will guide you on how to increase your iron or Vitamin B12 or folate intake, depending upon the type of anemia you have.

Your care team will provide you with necessary information on how to care for yourself and your baby while being anemic. You should take aforementioned blood tests again to see if your levels are improving.

Can Anemia in Pregnancy be prevented?

Yes, anemia in pregnancy is a preventable health issue. Expecting parents should be cautious from the early days of pregnancy. You should consult your healthcare provider and discuss your risk of developing anemia. If you have an increased probability of being affected by this condition, your healthcare provider will alter your birthing plan to suit your medical needs.

Iron tablets for pregnancy along with a nutrient-dense diet are key factors towards preventing anemia. Since every mother is unique, your health requirements will also be unique. Your doctor will identify your health needs and offer solutions to reduce your chances of being anemic.

You can prevent anemia by adding iron rich foods for pregnancy in your diet. Listed below are some healthy sources of iron to increase your intake.

Iron rich foods for pregnancy:

  • Meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish including (fully-cooked) clams, mussels, and oysters
  • Leafy greens vegetables including cabbage, broccoli, kale, turnip greens and collards
  • Legumes
  • Beans and green peas
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Iron-enriched white bread, pasta, rice, and cereals
  • Soya beans and soya products
  • Dried fruits and nuts

While iron rich foods for pregnancy are essential, it is important for you to eat foods that help you absorb the iron. Food rich in vitamin C for example kiwi, oranges, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts and parsley, help in absorbing sufficient levels of iron.

According to medical experts, a pregnant woman is should take 27 mg of iron every day for a healthy pregnancy. You should aim to keep your iron intake to the suggested levels and discuss your concerns with the doctor.

The Final Thought

Despite the fact that anemia in pregnancy is a highly common problem experienced by nearly 50% of pregnant women. It is also a highly preventable one. Expecting parents should gain a better understanding of this health concern during the early days of their pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will offer you personalized information on how to prevent anemia and have a healthy pregnancy.

Watch out for this space for more information or health tips on a safe and healthy pregnancy journey.

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Aashi Dahiya is a 24-year-old wellness enthusiast and mental health advocate. A budding content creator, she has gained experience in the world of health-oriented writing and media. She has previously worked as a journalist and continues to rally for socio-political issues in her real life. She is passionate about the idea of self and compassionate care through journaling and meditation. Time and again, she shares her views and opinions here. She can be reached on Instagram @aashiwho.

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