Anemia is a disorder when your body contains less than sufficient red blood cells in your blood. These cells are mostly created in the bone marrow and live for 90 to 120 days. If you have anemia, then your body may produce insufficient quantities of red blood cells or they may be defective in nature or may die too quickly. Mild anemia is common during pregnancy because a large part of the blood goes towards the use of the baby. However, it is necessary to take preventive care and not let the iron deficiency build up. Anemia increases weakness and possibility of infection, hampering the ability of your body to deliver your baby safely. Iron rich diet and supplements are recommended to prevent anemia during pregnancy.

Our body derives energy from oxygen. The oxygen enters our body through the lungs by the process of respiration. The blood absorbs the oxygen and carries it to all the cells in the body. This task is done by an iron-rich compound called hemoglobin that is present in the red blood cells. These cells are created by the soft spongy tissues of the bone marrow. Normally, these cells contain hemoglobin and live for 90 to 120 days. If you are affected by anemia, these cells are not properly formed or they are insufficient in number or they die out too quickly.

The risk of anemia is higher during pregnancy. As the baby is forming in your body, there is a greater demand for blood. The blood is first diverted to the use of your baby; then it is used for yourself. So, mild cases of anemia are not uncommon. However, certain dietary practices or genetic factors may further complicate the issue leading to serious consequences for both the mother and the child.

Types of anemia during pregnancy

Lack of different types of minerals results in different types of anemia during pregnancy. These are as follows:

  • The most common type of anemia experienced during pregnancy is the iron deficiency anemia. In this type, the body cannot get enough iron. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin. So, if there is inadequate quality of iron, the blood will be able to carry less oxygen and all parts of your body will not get necessary oxygen. The lack of iron may be because of a diet poor in iron or because your body cannot absorb the iron that is present in your diet.
  • Another type of anemia that may occur during pregnancy is folate deficiency anemia. This is seen when there is lack of adequate folate or folic acid in the diet. It is a type of vitamin B12 which is necessary for the body to manufacture healthy red blood cells. Pregnant women require more folate. So, unless they increase the folate intake, they fall prey to folate deficiency anemia.
  • The third type is vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. This also hampers the creation of the red blood cells in the body.

There are certain risk factors which increases the incidence of anemia during pregnancy. These include multiple fetuses, short gap between successive pregnancies, teen pregnancies, excessive vomiting and morning sickness and a poor diet.

You may not be anemic during pregnancy, but the condition may develop after heavy bleeding during childbirth.

Symptoms of anemia during pregnancy

The common symptoms of anemia during pregnancy are as follows:

  • Unnatural pallor, including that of the lips, nails and skin
  • Fatigue and excessive tiredness.
  • Weakness and dizziness.
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Faintness
  • Mood swings and difficulty in concentration.

The effect of maternal anemia on the baby

When you are pregnant, every aspect of your body has a direct impact on your baby. So, it is necessary to know what effects anemia will have on your baby:

  • Mild anemia, which is most common in pregnancies, is temporary and has no effects on the baby. Blood is first diverted to serve the needs of the child. It is then put to the use of the mother. So, even if you feel mildly dizzy or faint, your baby is getting all the nutrition it needs.
  • However, research suggests that if you have continuous anemia during pregnancy, your baby will have a higher probability of developing anemia in his / her childhood. There are also increased risk of asthma and stroke of the child.
  • The most serious impact that iron deficiency anemia can have during pregnancy is precipitating preterm delivery. This is associated with other risk factors like low birth weight, stillbirths or higher rate of neonatal mortality.
  • Anemia increases the weakness of your body. So, you cannot fight infections as effectively. This places both you and your baby at risk. There is an increased tendency of blood loss during delivery. You may also need blood transfusion.

Cure and preventive care for anemia during pregnancy

A number of methods are suggested for cure and preventive care of anemia during pregnancy. The basic tenet is that a healthy diet for the mother should include plenty of iron as well as other essential elements like folate and vitamin B12 which are necessary to prevent anemia.
Pregnant women should eat plenty of iron rich foods. These are as follows:

  • Red meat, poultry, egg and fish
  • Shellfish
  • Beans, legumes, lentils, nuts
  • Tofu
  • Raisins
  • Iron fortified cereals
  • Beets

In most cases, doctors recommend an iron supplement along with iron rich foods. Taking such supplements generally cause a degree of constipation. In addition to the above, your diet should also include those items that are rich in folate and vitamin B12 so that your body can easily absorb the iron from your food. Such items include:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Spinach
  • Dried beans
  • Broccoli etc

Apart from these, vitamin C helps in better absorption of iron in your body. So, include good sources of vitamin C in your diet. The best foods in this regard are:

  • Citrus fruits and vegetables like lemon and orange.
  • Tomatoes
  • Kiwi
  • Bell pepper
  • Strawberries

Calcium hinders the ability of the body to absorb iron from supplements. So, you should not take iron supplements with milk. But milk is needed. So, you will have to drink it at certain gaps from the supplement.

Tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee also interfere with proper iron absorption. So, they too should be avoided during pregnancy. Liver is a rich source of iron. But it should be avoided during pregnancy because it contains high levels of vitamin A which can be harmful for the baby. Most doctors prescribe multivitamin supplements to combat anemia during pregnancy.