Anemia is a condition in which your body doesn't make enough red blood cells. Although there are many types of anemia, the most common type is iron-deficiency anemia. This form is more prevalent in women than men—about 9% to 20% of women and 50% of pregnant women develop iron-deficiency anemia.
Iron-deficiency anemia develops when you don't get enough iron to make the healthy red blood cells your body needs. The red blood cells your body does have also lack enough hemoglobin to carry oxygenated blood everywhere it's needed.
Having anemia during pregnancy can cause problems for your health as well as the health of your developing baby. Anemia in pregnancy could even lead to complications like premature birth of your baby, a low-weight but full-term baby, or postpartum depression.
Signs and symptoms of anemia in pregnancy
This condition usually starts out mild and becomes more severe as you move through later stages of pregnancy. Signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia may include some or all of the following:
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- Inflammation or soreness on your tongue
- Cold hands and feet
- Low body temperature
- Pale or yellowish skin
- Chest pains
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
If your iron-deficiency anemia is severe, you might also develop pica, where you crave unusual or non-food items. Ice cubes, clay, and dirt are some of the items iron-deficient women may crave.
Causes of anemia in pregnancy
The most common cause of iron-deficiency anemia in pregnancy is the increasing demand your growing baby places on your body. During pregnancy, your body requires a lot more iron to support the placenta and your baby's development.
Over the course of your pregnancy, iron requirements for the placenta amount to 90 milligrams, while your baby will need around 270 milligrams. Iron demand increases as you move through the trimesters, with the third trimester requiring the most iron.
Along with the strain of keeping up with your baby's iron needs, you may develop anemia if you don't eat enough iron-rich foods or if you eat too many foods that block iron absorption.
Additional risk factors
Beyond these common causes, you have a higher chance of developing iron-deficiency anemia in pregnancy if you have closely spaced pregnancies, are pregnant with more than one baby, experience a lot of morning sickness, or typically had heavy menstrual flows before pregnancy.
Diagnosing anemia in pregnancy
If you are pregnant and you think that you are developing iron-deficiency anemia, you should contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor will order a blood test called a complete blood count, or CBC, to check your red blood cell and hemoglobin levels.
They might also order other prenatal care tests to check your body's serum iron, ferritin, transferrin, white blood cell levels, and platelets.
Treatments for anemia in pregnancy
Depending on your test results, your doctor might recommend that you increase your intake of iron-rich foods, cut down on certain foods and beverages, or take prenatal vitamins or an iron supplement.
Iron-rich foods are important for women at any age, but you need more of them during pregnancy. While most women need about 18 milligrams of iron each day, pregnant women need about 27 to 30 milligrams of iron to support their baby.
Foods high in iron include:
- Lean red meat
- Beet greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Lentils and beans
- Sweet potato
Foods containing calcium, such as dairy or soy products, tend to block your body's ability to absorb iron, so try to limit calcium-rich foods. Many doctors will advise limiting caffeine consumption during pregnancy to avoid potential negative effects on your baby’s growth, but coffee and tea can also prevent you from absorbing iron. If you’re drinking caffeinated beverages during your pregnancy, have them between meals. Foods rich in vitamin C, however, can help your body absorb more iron.
You should take prenatal vitamins when trying to get pregnant, but you also need them during your entire pregnancy. These vitamins not only supply you and your baby with folic acid and iron, but they also provide other nutrients like zinc, vitamin E, B vitamins, omega-3s, vitamin C, and vitamin D.
Finally, if your blood tests still show low levels of iron, your doctor might recommend that you take iron supplements to boost iron levels.
Iron pills can cause upset stomach or diarrhea, so you should always take them with food. Check in regularly with your doctor to test your blood levels to ensure you aren't taking too high a dose, since too much iron can be toxic to the body.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Mayo Clinic: "Iron deficiency anemia."
Mayo Clinic: "Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy: Prevention tips."
Office on Women's Health: "Iron-deficiency anemia."
Texas Department of State Health Services: "How pica affects a pregnant woman and her unborn baby."
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Iron requirements in pregnancy and strategies to meet them."
University of California San Francisco: "Anemia and Pregnancy."
American Red Cross: "Iron Rich Foods."
Harvard Health Publishing: "A healthy diet is the key to getting the iron you need."
Mayo Clinic: "Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose."
Top How Does Anemia Affect Pregnancy Related Articles
Anemia: Common Causes, Symptoms, Types, and TreatmentAnemia is a disease marked by low numbers of red blood cells. Low iron deficiency or underlying disease, like cancer, may be to blame. Treatment can resolve anemia.
AnemiaAnemia is the condition of having less than the normal number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. The oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is, therefore, decreased. There are several types of anemia such as iron deficiency anemia (the most common type), sickle cell anemia, vitamin B12 anemia, pernicious anemia, and aplastic anemia. Symptoms of anemia may include fatigue, malaise, hair loss, palpitations, menstruation, and medications. Treatment for anemia includes treating the underlying cause for the condition. Iron supplements, vitamin B12 injections, and certain medications may also be necessary.
Anemia: How Is It Treated and Can It Be Cured?How is anemia treated and can anemia be cured? Learn how to identify and manage anemia.
Pregnancy Discomforts: Common CausesDuring pregnancy, most women will experience discomforts during the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimesters. Common causes of discomforts during pregnancy include nausea and vomiting (morning sickness), fatigue, breast swelling and pain, hemorrhoids, stretch marks, mood swings, dizziness, migraines, tooth pain and bleeding gums, and pica. Common causes of pregnancy discomforts include constipation, heartburn, indigestion, reflux, varicose veins, abdominal pain, problems sleeping, congested or bloody nose, and flu like body aches.
16 Early Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy: Could You Be Pregnant?What are the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy? Can you know before your missed period? Read about nausea and vomiting (morning sickness), bloating, tender breasts, and more. Explore first trimester symptoms of pregnancy and learn what week pregnancy symptoms start.
Am I Pregnant QuizWhat are early pregnancy symptoms? In some women, symptoms range from a missed period to feeling lightheaded. Others may experience typical "morning sickness" and food cravings. Could you be pregnant? Take the quiz!
How Does Anemia Affect Your Baby During Pregnancy?Anemia occurs when you don't have enough red blood cells to transport adequate oxygen or iron. Anemia during pregnancy may contribute to early delivery or failure of the baby to grow to a healthy weight.
Pernicious Anemia PicturePernicious anemia is a disease where large, immature, nucleated cells (megaloblasts, which are forerunners of red blood cells) circulate in the blood, and do not function as blood cells; it is a disease caused by impaired uptake of vitamin B-12 due to the lack of intrinsic factor (IF) in the gastric mucosa. It was termed "pernicious" because before it was learned that vitamin B-12 could treat the anemia, most people that developed the disease died from it.
Pregnancy Myths and Facts QuizBeing pregnant is a delicate time for both mother and baby. Take this pregnancy myths and facts quiz to separate the myths and facts about being pregnant, and learn the truth behind healthy pregnancies!
Early Pregnancy Symptoms: Am I Pregnant?Pregnancy symptoms can vary from woman to woman, and not all women experience the same symptoms. When women do experience pregnancy symptoms they may include symptoms including missed menstrual period, mood changes, headaches, lower back pain, fatigue, nausea, breast tenderness, and heartburn. Signs and symptoms in late pregnancy include leg swelling and shortness of breath. Options for relief of pregnancy symptoms include exercise, diet, and other lifestyle changes.
Pregnancy Diet (Menu Plans)When a woman is pregnant, she needs more vitamins, minerals, and other foods in her diet to stay healthy and deliver a healthy baby. A healthy pregnancy diet menu plan should consist of lots of fruits, vegetables, lean meats (unless you are vegan or vegetarian), and dairy. Examples of healthy pregnancy diet meal plans include holistic pregnancy diet, vegan or vegetarian diet, and low-carb diets. Begin your healthy eating plan around three months before you begin trying to conceive, and follow the same eating plan until after you have stopped breastfeeding. If you are overweight or obese, being pregnant is not the right time to try to lose weight. Discuss your options with your health care professional.
Stages of Pregnancy: Week by WeekSee pictures on the various stages of pregnancy. See and learn what changes a woman's body goes through and view fetal images of how her baby grows during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
What Does It Mean When Your Hemoglobin Is Low?What is considered low hemoglobin? What is anemia and what causes it? Learn the signs and treatments of low hemoglobin and anemia.
What Is Hb H Disease?Hemoglobin H (Hb H) disease is an inherited hemoglobin disorder in which three out of the four alpha-globin genes that are usually present are deleted or has a mutation that impairs alpha-globin chain production. This leads to an excess of beta-globin chains that are unstable, precipitate within the cell, and destroys the red blood cells. Hb H is a thalassemia-like syndrome defined by hemolysis and the production of ineffective red cells.
What Trimester Are You Most Tired During Pregnancy?It is common to feel tired during pregnancy. For most women, the first trimester is the one that causes the most fatigue.
When Should You Stop Traveling While Pregnant?For uncomplicated pregnancies, it can be safe to travel during your pregnancy. However, the recommended time to travel is during your second trimester.