Anemia is a condition in which there is a decrease in the number of healthy red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin circulating in the body. Anemia can affect anyone, but it is particularly common during pregnancy, when the body requires more blood cells and hemoglobin.
The body needs to make more blood during pregnancy, so it requires more iron and vitamins to produce a protein in red blood cells called hemoglobin. This protein transports oxygen to other cells in the body.
If anemia is severe during pregnancy, the developing baby may be at risk of anemia as an infant. People with anemia also have a higher risk of giving birth prematurely or delivering a low weight baby. Having anemia also increases the risk of blood loss during labor, which can make it more difficult to fight infection.
However, people can usually treat the condition by eating more iron-rich foods and taking iron supplements.
This article provides more information about anemia and the types that can occur during pregnancy. It also looks at the symptoms and risk factors and gives some prevention tips.
A person with anemia has low levels of red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin contains iron and is the protein that gives blood its red color. It combines with oxygen from the lungs, which it transports throughout the body.
Anemia is the most common blood disease. There are more than 400 types of anemia, many of which have their own specific causes, treatments, and outlooks.
Anemia is usually an indicator of an
Various types of anemia are common during pregnancy. These include:
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12 is essential for the body to be able to multiply red blood cells. It occurs naturally in animal products, such as eggs, meat, fish, and dairy. It is also available as a dietary supplement and a prescription medication. Fortified breakfast cereals and fortified nutritional yeasts are also good sources of vitamin B12.
This condition is an irreversible autoimmune disease that affects the mucous membrane of the stomach, called the gastric mucosa. It can cause gastric atrophy, a destruction of the cells in the protective stomach lining.
Pernicious anemia can also prevent the absorption of vitamin B12, even if a person is consuming adequate amounts of the vitamin. It is the most common cause of vitamin B12 deficiency worldwide.
About 151 in 100,000 people in the United States have pernicious anemia, and it is more common among females and people of European ancestry.
Folate deficiency anemia
During pregnancy, people require
If a person does not have enough folate before and during their pregnancy, the baby
Neural tube defects occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy, usually before a person knows that they are pregnant. Due to this, the
Iron deficiency anemia
A person’s iron needs
- meeting the increased demands of the fetus and placenta
- keeping up with the higher production of red blood cells
- compensating for iron loss during the delivery of a baby
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia among pregnant people.
Researchers estimate that
The research above also highlights a link between iron deficiency anemia and the following:
The symptoms of anemia during pregnancy may begin as mild and develop slowly. They can include:
A person is at higher risk of becoming anemic during pregnancy if they:
- are pregnant with more than one baby
- have had a recent previous pregnancy
- do not consume enough iron
- had a heavy menstrual flow before pregnancy
- vomit often due to morning sickness
Good nutrition is the best way to prevent anemia during pregnancy or when trying to become pregnant. Eating foods high in iron can help with maintaining the supply of iron necessary to function properly. These foods include:
A doctor will likely test a person for anemia at their first prenatal visit and possibly again 4–6 weeks after delivery. If either test reveals anemia, the doctor may refer the person to a hematologist — a doctor who specializes in blood-related conditions.
An obstetrician will also prescribe vitamins to ensure that a pregnant person has enough folate and iron. If a person does develop anemia during pregnancy, they can usually treat it by taking iron supplements.
People require more iron as their blood levels increase during pregnancy. This increased need may result in iron deficiency and anemia.
Anemia may affect the development of the fetus, and it can cause serious health issues, including neural tube defects. These abnormalities can occur during the very early stages of pregnancy, so it is important to have enough iron and folate before becoming pregnant, as well as during and after pregnancy.
Anemia during pregnancy is often due to a deficiency in vitamin B12, folate, or iron.
In many cases, it is possible to prevent anemia during pregnancy by eating foods high in iron and taking vitamins and supplements containing iron, vitamin B12, and folate. However, a person should seek advice from a doctor or midwife before taking any new supplements.