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Anemia During Pregnancy: Signs & Side Effects

calendarNovember 18, 2016
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Different types of anemia

Your body starts to require significantly more iron when you are pregnant. This element is essential for creating hemoglobin. This is the protein in the red blood cells which supplies with oxygen the other cells of your body. When you are pregnant, the blood amount in your body increases until it becomes almost 50 percent more than usual. This is the reason why you need more iron which  makes more hemoglobin for all the additional blood. The growing baby and the placenta also require more iron.

Low Iron During Pregnancy

Most of the women become pregnant without having sufficient stores of iron to help them meet their body's increased demands. Anemia during pregnancy offer appears in the second and the third trimesters. If you reach the point when you no longer have enough iron which creates all the hemoglobin your body and the baby need, then you will become anemic during pregnancy. The risk of becoming anemic is even higher if you have intensive morning sickness which causes frequent vomiting. There are more risk factors for having low iron during pregnancy - you had two or more pregnancies close together; you are pregnant with more than one baby, you do not have a healthy diet; your pre-pregnancy menstrual flow was heavy and you lost a lot of blood.

Increased Iron Needs

The amount of iron which you need will increase during pregnancy from 18 to 27 milligrams (mg) daily. Since it is hard to get this amount only through diet, health experts recommend that pregnant women take a daily iron supplement of 30 mg. This is considered to be the anemia-during-pregnancy preventive dose. Most of the prenatal supplements contain that amount and would help you avoid becoming anemic.

What Causes Anemia During Pregnancy

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type among pregnant women. However, sometimes the low iron in pregnancy is not the only cause. A pregnant woman could become anemic from not getting enough folic acid or vitamin B12. Losing a large amount of blood and some diseases and inherited blood disorders such as sickle cell disease also can cause anemia.

Signs of Anemia

Since anemia in pregnancy is a common condition, your practitioner will test your blood for anemia at your first prenatal appointment. One of the elements of this test - hematocrit measures the percentage of red blood cells in your plasma. The hemoglobin levels show the number of grams of hemoglobin in your blood. If they are low, your body will not receive enough oxygen supplies. Even if you are not anemic at the beginning of your pregnancy, there is still a risk to develop anemia with the progression of your pregnancy.

That is why you will have another blood test at the end of your second trimester or at the beginning of the third one. It is considered to be normal your hemoglobin and hematocrit levels to go down in the second half of pregnancy. This happens because the amount of blood in your body increases a lot and the amount of plasma increases faster than the number and the size of your red blood cells.

Anemia Symptoms

At first, you might not have any symptoms at all, especially if you have mild anemia. Pay attention if you feel tired, weak or dizzy. However, all of these symptoms are quite common for pregnant women, so they will not mean for sure that you have become anemic. You could also notice that you have become paler, especially in your fingernails, the underside of your eyelids, and your lips. The rapid heartbeat, headache, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, irritability, and trouble concentrating are also symptoms of anemia.

What is the Pica Condition?

This bizarre condition is considered as a symptom of severe iron-deficiency anemia. It involves cravings for non-food substances such as ice, paper, or clay. If you experience something like this, do not consider that you have lost your mind but contact your health care provider.

How is Anemia Diagnosed?

Usually, anemia in pregnancy is usually is diagnosed when the hemoglobin levels drop below 12g/dL. At this point, it becomes crucial to restoring hemoglobin levels through having iron-rich foods and/or taking iron supplements under the supervision of a doctor. In severe cases, a blood transfusion may be necessary.

Iron-deficiency Anemia Treatment

Low iron in pregnancy

In case your tests have shown that you have iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor should prescribe you an iron supplement. Its dose will depend on the severity of your condition. In most of the cases, it is 60 to 120 mg or more, in addition to the iron you take your prenatal supplement. Always follow strictly the doctor's instructions – never take more iron than you were prescribed.

Pay attention that the suggested doses in this article refer to elemental iron, also known as pure iron. The labels of some supplements show the amount of ferrous sulfate. This is some kind of an iron salt, The supplement which contains 325 mg of ferrous sulfate will provide your body with only about 60 mg of elemental iron. Your supplement might also contain ferrous gluconate, 300 mg of which will give you about 34 mg of elemental iron. The third common form - ferrous fumarate has about 106 mg of elemental iron in a 325 mg tablet.

How to Take Iron Supplements?

For absorbing maximal amounts of the iron, the best way is to take the iron supplement on an empty stomach. Take the pill with water or with fresh orange juice, which contains vitamin C, This vitamin helps the iron absorption. Do not drink your iron supplement with milk since calcium reduces the level of absorption. Coffee and tea also have the same negative effect, so you can drink them hours before or after having your iron pills.

What is the Effect of Iron Pills?

Within about a week after starting your anemia treatment, your body is supposed to start producing a lot of new red blood cells. As a result, the hemoglobin levels in your body will increase. It will probably take two or three months to cope with the anemia. However, your doctor will probably advise you to continue taking iron supplements for a few more months in order to prevent anemia appearing again.

Keep Your Iron Pills Away from Children

This is extremely important since more kids die from iron overdose each year than from any other type of accidental drug poisoning. The danger is great since a single adult dose could heavily poison a small child.

Have Iron-rich Foods as a Prevention Measure

This is something you should start doing even before getting pregnant. This will also help you feel better, even if you have already been diagnosed with anemia. These are the foods which will help you your body's iron supplies.

You need to eat these foods to help relieve anemia regularly and to be sure that you keep a healthy and balanced diet:
  • Meats and poultry;
  • Beans;
  • Beets;
  • Tofu;
  • Cereals, bread, pasta and oatmeal;
  • Dark leafy greens ;
  • Dried fruit;
  • Broccoli;
  • Brussels sprouts.

The Role of Vitamin C

This vitamin makes it easier for the body to absorb the iron. What you should do is to try to combine these iron-rich foods with foods which are high in vitamin C. The orange juice, as well as steamed broccoli and others are a great addition to your meals. Do not combine them with calcium-rich foods at the same meals, which reduce the levels of absorption of iron.

What Herbal Remedies Should You Try?

It is well-known by experts that nettles are a safe and iron-rich herbal remedy which can help you relieve or prevent anemia during pregnancy. You can take them in the form of tea or find them as pills in the local health food store. You can also cook it if you succeed to find it in the stores.

Your Diet during Pregnancy

You will probably easily get confused what you should and what you should not eat when you are pregnant. The general rule is that your diet needs to be healthy and balanced, just like before getting pregnant. The foods you eat have to provide your body with all the nutrients it needs. Receiving enough iron only from your food is a real challenge. So, you should consult with your doctor about your diet and whether you need to take some supplements.

Do Iron Supplements Have Side Effects?

Foods that help anemia

For adults, iron supplements are generally safe if taken in the prescribed doses. Still, high levels of iron coming from supplements could cause your problems with the gastrointestinal tract. In most of the cases, the result leads to constipation which many pregnant women have anyway. There is a simple solution which you should try. If you suffer from constipation - drink prune juice. It might not only help you stay regular, but it is also a good source of iron, as well.

You should also consider having a stool softener to make you feel more comfortable. When taking iron supplements, you might experience other side effects such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, abdominal discomfort and, in some cases - diarrhea. If you have any of these, you should try taking the iron pill at different times. Thus, you will find what regime works best for you.

Here is an example – in case iron causes you stomach problems or heartburn, then avoid taking the pill before going to bed. Otherwise, lying down afterward you have taken the supplement, could cause your discomfort. The opposite situation – if the pill makes you a bit queasy right after you take it, then take it near bedtime. Maybe this way your body will ignore nausea.

Consult with Your Doctor In Case of Intense Side Effects

If your body does not seem able to get used to taking iron pills, then consult with your doctor. The health specialist will probably prescribe you a lower dose. Your stomach problems might be relieved by taking less iron, and then gradually increasing to the dose you need. Another option is to take the iron in divided doses throughout the day helps minimize your discomfort. If the side effects still bother you, you will probably have to some or all of your iron dose with food or using trying a time-released formula. These pills are not the best option as far as absorption is concerned but they might appear to be a necessary compromise.

Consult with your doctor about the way how to take your supplements if you notice side effects which cause you discomfort.

Is Iron-deficiency Anemia Dangerous for the Baby?

In general, iron-deficiency will first affect you before causing baby anemia. Still, if the mother becomes anemic, this could affect the baby's iron stores. This will increase the risk of becoming anemic later in infancy. That is why the condition of the baby has to be monitored if the mother had anemia before giving birth. Iron-deficiency anemia is a risk factor for preterm delivery, as well as low birth weight. Experts also associate it with a higher risk of stillbirth or newborn death. Because of this, you and your doctor should take together all the needed measure to prevent anemia. Symptoms of low iron levels should never be ignored.

What Happens When Your Iron is Low?

Iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy affects will cause you unpleasant anemic symptoms. It could leave you totally out of energy and make it harder for your organism to fight the infections. If you have anemia in the last stages of pregnancy, you will probably have problems if you lose a lot of blood during labor. Mothers who have anemia and have just given birth, usually need to stay in the hospital an extra day or two. Sometimes, a blood transfusion has to be made. There is one more suggested danger - anemia may even raise the risk of developing a postpartum depression.

How Can I Prevent Iron-deficiency Anemia During Pregnancy?

You need to have a healthy regime – to have enough rest, to take your prenatal vitamins and to eat foods which contain plenty iron. Be sure to include in your meals red meat, poultry and shellfish. If you do feel fine eating meat during pregnancy, you can try having non-animal foods, rich in iron such as beans, lentils, tofu, raisins, figs, apricots, potatoes with the their skin on broccoli, prunes, beets, leafy green vegetables, nuts, whole grain breads, blackstrap molasses and others. Have in mind that if you consume only non-animal products, you will need iron supplements almost for sure. The reason is that human body absorbs much better the iron from animal sources, known as ‘heme iron’ much better than the one from non-animal sources, known as ‘non-heme iron’.

Avoid Eating Liver

Although liver is a good source of iron, you should totally avoid it during pregnancy. The reason is that it contains too high amounts of vitamin A, which might cause birth defects.

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