Iron Deficiency Anemia

Anemia is defined as a deficiency of red blood cells or red blood cells having a decreased ability to carry oxygen or iron. There are different forms of anemia, such as iron, B12, and folate deficiency. During pregnancy, the most common is iron deficiency anemia.

It is important to be tested for anemia during your first prenatal visit so that measures can be taken for treatment if you are found to be anemic. Even if you test negative for anemia at your first visit, the condition can develop as you progress through your pregnancy. This is especially true in the last three months when the baby is using a lot of your red blood cells for growth and development. Most doctors will test you at different stages throughout your pregnancy, including at your first visit, at twenty-eight weeks, once admitted to labor and delivery, and after delivery.


A diagnostic blood test that indicates hemoglobin and hematocrit levels can help to diagnose anemia. If these levels indicate a problem, additional blood tests and other evaluation measures may be used to properly diagnose you. Possible complications that can occur if anemia is not treated include premature labor, slowing of fetal growth, complications of dangerous anemia from normal blood loss during delivery, and an increased susceptibility of infection to the mother after delivery. Just because you are iron deficient does not necessarily mean you are anemic. For anemia to actually be diagnosed, you need to have a severe depletion of iron stores in your blood, with low levels of hemoglobin as well.

Most women are provided with iron through prenatal supplements before and during pregnancy to help prevent iron deficiency. Eating iron-rich foods such as lean meats, fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, pumpkin seeds, beans, and dried fruits can also be very helpful.


Women at higher risk of anemia are those who are unable to eat a balanced diet due to morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum, who pregnant with multiple babies, and who have overall poor eating habits, including inadequate iron intake. Your iron needs increase by 50 percent in pregnancy due to an increase in blood volume. Especially if your iron stores were not optimal before becoming pregnant, your iron can easily get used up to meet the demands of pregnancy, and that can lead to the risk of anemia. Good nutrition and proper supplementation before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy is vital to help build up your stores of iron and prevent the risk of iron deficiency anemia.

Signs and Symptoms

Unless blood cell counts are very low, the signs and symptoms of anemia can be very subtle. Symptoms vary from person to person and depend on the severity of the condition. Some symptoms include fatigue and weakness, headache, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, pale skin, and labored breathing or breathlessness.

Symptoms of anemia can closely resemble those of other health conditions and/or medical problems. Never diagnose or treat yourself. Always consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis.


Treatment for iron deficiency anemia is based on many factors, including the pregnancy, overall health, medical history, the type and severity of the anemia, tolerance for specific medications, procedures, and/or therapies, and the doctor's protocol. In general, most treatment for iron deficiency anemia includes some form of iron supplement. Some of these are time-release capsules, while others are taken several times throughout the day. The amount of iron provided daily is more than the usual recommended daily allowance. In general, most therapeutic levels prescribed for treatment are between 60 and 120 mg daily. Once the mother's hemoglobin levels return to normal for her stage of pregnancy, the normal recommended daily allowance is usually resumed.

Iron absorption can be increased with vitamin C-rich foods and/or supplements. It is also helpful to take iron supplements between meals or at bedtime as well as on an empty stomach to help absorption. On the flip side, antacids can decrease the absorption of iron.

For many women, iron supplements can cause nausea and constipation. If these problems occur, ask your doctor about taking them with meals. Be sure you are drinking plenty of fluids, and increase your fiber to help relieve problems with constipation. If the supplements cause problems for you, do not stop taking them until you have spoken with your doctor.

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