Symptoms of anemia in pregnancy may be absent or confused with normal changes in pregnant women. Learn how to identify and prevent it!
What is anemia in pregnancy?
There are cells found in the blood called red blood cells that are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to other organs to ensure their normal functioning. It is a protein found on the red blood cells; hemoglobin, that allows oxygen to be transported. Anemia occurs when a person’s blood does not contain enough hemoglobin to carry enough oxygen to the rest of the body.
During pregnancy, your baby uses your blood to obtain the nutrients it needs and to oxygenate its organs to continue its development. This means your body has to produce more hemoglobin to meet not only your needs, but also those of your unborn child.
However, sometimes your body is not able to produce enough hemoglobin to adequately meet your needs and those of your baby. If this happens, you have what is called anemia in pregnancy. This problem mostly occurs towards the end of the second trimester or at the beginning of the third.
What are the causes and the risk factors?
Anemia is the result of an imbalance between the production of red blood cells and the loss of them. Therefore, the causes can be at both levels. In the case of anemia in pregnancy, the body produces an insufficient amount of red blood cells, often due to nutritional deficiencies. In rarer cases, it can occur during childbirth if it is accompanied by a significant blood loss.
Lack of iron, which is essential for the production of hemoglobin, is the main cause of anemia during pregnancy. A deficiency of vitamin B-12 or folic acid can also play a role.
Some factors can increase the risk of anemia in pregnancy, for instance:
- the presence of anemia before pregnancy
- multiple-birth pregnancy
- closely spaced pregnancies
- frequent vomiting related to nausea in pregnancy
- iron deficient diet
- heavy periods before pregnancy
What are the signs and symptoms?
Sometimes anemia does not cause any symptoms, especially when it is mild. However, it can cause the following symptoms:
- fatigue or weakness
- difficulty concentrating
- pale skin
- shortness of breath
- rapid heartbeat
In all cases, the best way to diagnose anemia in pregnancy is through a blood test.
What are the possible complications?
In addition to causing unwanted symptoms for the mother, anemia in pregnancy can also lead to the following complications for the child:
- low birth weight
- preterm delivery
- a higher risk of anemia during the first years of life
- risk of fetal death (in more severe cases)
That’s why the doctor responsible for your follow-up will ensure that your hemoglobin levels are adequate throughout your pregnancy.
What are the preventive measures?
The best way to prevent anemia in pregnancy is to have a varied diet rich in iron, including the following foods:
- red meat
- fish and seafood
- iron-fortified cereal
- leafy green vegetables (spinach, broccoli, etc.)
- dried fruits and nuts
In addition, taking a prenatal multivitamin ensures an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, including iron and folic acid. In addition to helping protect against pregnancy-related anemia, it also helps prevent other problems, such as neural tube defects.
How is anemia in pregnancy treated?
The treatment recommended by your doctor will depend mainly on the cause and severity of your anemia.
If an iron supplement is necessary, it is best to take it on an empty stomach or with foods rich in vitamin C (e.g., orange juice) to maximize its absorption. The main side effects of iron supplements are of a digestive nature (constipation, cramps, dark stool, etc.). Pharmacists are your greatest ally—don’t hesitate to ask them for information about how to take an iron supplement effectively and how to manage the side effects that may be related to it.
If you suffer from anemia in pregnancy, don’t be overly concerned! Instead, ask your pharmacist for advice so you can implement all the necessary measures that will enable you to have a healthy pregnancy.