Pregnancy induced anemia: Why you should be concerned

You would be glad to know that as you near the completion of your first trimester, a lot will change for good. The things you hate to deal with right now, one of which is morning sickness, of course, is slated to significantly reduce if not disappear completely. Taking things easy is the key here, however, you need to also be abreast of certain things that are crucial. One of which is pregnancy-induced anemia. This is quite common and most of the time kicks in during the last stages of the first trimester or beginning of the second trimester.

Anemia is a medical condition in which there are insufficient healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues in the body. This affects the organs and their functions. During pregnancy, your body produces more blood to support the growth of your baby. The amount of blood in your body increases by about 20-30 percent, which increases the supply of iron and vitamins that the body needs to make hemoglobin. 

How does ‘pregnancy-induced anemia’ kick in?

If your body is not getting enough iron or certain other nutrients to produce the number of red blood cells it needs to make this additional blood, you may develop anemia. Pregnancy-induced anemia is a concern because it is associated with a low birth weight of the baby, premature birth, and maternal mortality. 

Types of pregnancy-induced anemia

There are various types of anemia. Some common ones during pregnancy and reasons you could develop them are:

1. Iron-deficiency anemia

This is the most common cause of anemia in pregnancy and it occurs when the body does not have enough iron to produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin, which is the protein in red blood cells. 

2. Folate-deficiency anemia 

Folate is the vitamin found naturally in certain foods like cereals, bananas, melons, legumes and green leafy vegetables. The body needs this folate to produce new healthy red blood cells. Expecting mothers need extra folate and sometimes do not get enough from their diet. 

3. Vitamin B12 deficiency 

Pregnant women need extra vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells. Women who don’t eat meat, poultry, dairy products and eggs have a greater risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency. 

Grandma’s Tip: If at all you’re anemic or at a greater risk of it, and on top of that if you don’t eat meat, and have a bigger deficiency of iron and folate, restrict your daily dose of chai and coffee! Yes, India runs on chai I know, but the intake of tea, coffee, and cocoa actually restricts our body’s iron-absorption function, making it worse for anemic folks, so better to avoid it.

Risk factors for anemia during pregnancy

Let us discuss the risk factors for anemia in pregnancy. It is very common for all pregnant women to run at a risk of becoming anemic. This is because they need more iron and folic acid than usual. But the risk is higher if you: 

  • Are a teenager 
  • Don’t eat enough foods that are rich in iron 
  • Had anemia before you became pregnant 
  • Are pregnant with multiples (more than one baby) 
  • Have had two pregnancies close together 
  • Are vomiting a lot because of morning sickness 

Some of the common symptoms of anemia during pregnancy are: 

  • Pale skin, lips, and nails 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat 
  • Feeling exhausted easily 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Dizziness 
  • Cold hands and feet 

You may not have obvious symptoms in the early stages of anemia. So, it is recommended to get routine blood tests to check for anemia at your prenatal appointments. 

The risks of anemia in pregnancy are: 

Untreated iron-deficiency or severe during pregnancy can increase your risk of having: 

  • A baby with anemia 
  • A baby with developmental delays 
  • A preterm or low-birth-weight baby 
  • Postpartum depression 

An untreated folate deficiency can increase your risk of having a: 

  • Baby with a serious birth defect of the spine or brain (neural tube defects) 
  • A preterm or low-birth-weight baby 
  • Untreated vitamin B12 deficiency can increase your risk of having: 
  • A baby with neural tube defects 

Tests for anemia 

During your first prenatal appointment, get a blood test done for your doctor to check whether you have anemia. The blood tests include: 

1. Hemoglobin test: 

It measures the amount of hemoglobin- an iron-rich protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body. 

2. Haematocrit test: 

This measures the percentage of red blood cells in a sample of blood. Your doctor will check your blood test report and suggest your diet accordingly. 

Treatment for anemia during pregnancy 

Good nutrition is the best way to prevent anemia if you are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant. 

Anemia during pregnancy can easily be treated by adding iron or vitamin supplements to your daily routine. In addition, your doctor may also suggest you add more foods that are rich in iron and folic acid to your diet. 

The iron-rich foods are: 

  • Beans, lentils and tofu, lean meat, fish 
  • Poultry products like eggs and chicken 
  • Dairy products like milk, curd, cheese, paneer
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Iron-fortified cereals and grains like ragi and other millets 
  • Leafy dark green vegetables like spinach, broccoli 

To beat the vitamin deficiencies, choose foods that are high in vitamin C, which can help your body absorb more iron. These include foods like: 

  • Citrus fruits like sweet lime, lemon, oranges and their juices 
  • Tomatoes, strawberries, kiwis 
  • Bell peppers of different colours 

To prevent a folate deficiency, choose foods that are high in folate like: 

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Citrus fruits and juices, dried beans 
  • Bread and cereals fortified with folic acid 

As it can be a challenge to eat as much iron as is suggested during pregnancy, take doctor recommended iron supplements in addition to consuming these foods. 

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