Anaemia, characterized by low oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, can occur during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the blood production in the body increases to support your baby’s growth, but sometimes, insufficient iron or other nutrient intake hampers the body’s ability to produce sufficient red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues. The three major types of anaemia that develops during pregnancy are iron-deficiency anaemia (most common), vitamin B12 deficiency and folate-deficiency anaemia.
In its early stages, anaemia may not show any symptoms or the symptoms may be common to those experienced during pregnancy without anaemia.
Anaemia during pregnancy can make you feel tired and weak, dizzy and make cause shortness of breath, increased heartbeat, problems in concentration, and paleness of the lips, skin and nails. If left untreated, it may increase the risk of preterm (premature) delivery.
Routine blood tests are important to detect anaemia at its early stages. Your doctor will suggest a blood test during the first prenatal appointment. Lower levels of haemoglobin and red blood cells in the haematocrit test may indicate anaemia. The tests are repeated during the second or third trimester.
Anaemia during pregnancy can be treated with iron and folic acid supplements. Your doctor will advise you to include foods rich in iron and folic acid in your diet. You can prevent anaemia by including eggs, poultry, fish, lean red meat, dark green and leafy vegetables, iron-rich cereals, and nuts in your diet. You can also include high vitamin C rich foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers and strawberries, so that more iron can be absorbed in your body. Vegetarians and vegans should consult their doctor regarding taking vitamin B12 supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding.