Anaemia and iron-deficiency in pregnancy

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Before you conceived, you needed about 15 milligrams (mg) of iron per day. Now you need twice as much, as the volume of blood in your body increases by nearly one half during pregnancy.

If you don’t have enough iron to fuel haemoglobin production for you and your baby, you’re likely to develop iron-deficient anaemia.

Eat an iron-rich diet

As with most vitamins and minerals, food is the best source.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Raisins
  • Beans
  • Oats
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Lean red meat
  • Shellfish
  • Iron-fortified cereals

But even if you eat a diet loaded with these foods, you’ll have a hard time getting enough iron. Prenatal vitamins should provide the extra insurance you need.

Who is at risk

  • Women with severe morning sickness
  • Women who have 2 or more pregnancies close together
  • Women who are carrying more than one baby
  • Women with heavy periods pre-pregnancy.

The routine blood tests conducted throughout pregnancy will verify whether your haemoglobin levels are normal.

Severe anaemia can decrease oxygen delivery to the placenta and you may need a blood transfusion after delivery if your blood count falls too low.

Symptoms of severe anaemia are:

  • Fatigue
  • Pallor (being pale)
  • Light-headedness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Rapid Pulse
  • Decreased appetite and/or problems swallowing.

Treatment

Anaemia is treated by taking iron supplements once or twice a day, depending on what your caregiver recommends. Unfortunately, large doses of iron may cause nausea and vomiting, particularly in the first trimester. In this case you may have to wait to take the supplements until the second trimester or when the nausea subsides.

Iron supplements can cause constipation, so add more fibre to your diet. Also take iron pills with something rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice, to get the maximum benefit. But avoid washing them down with milk – calcium decreases the iron your body can actually use. Don’t drink coffee or tea as these also decrease iron absorption.

Your condition is unlikely to affect your baby if you manage it properly. Your body will make sure he gets adequate iron before you do, so you’ll be short of iron long before he is. Generally, your baby will be drawing most dramatically on your iron reserves by about week 20.

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