Anaemia in Pregnancy is a common concern.
It is a condition in which the haemoglobin level of the blood is low and is relatively common in pregnant women, more so in India. During pregnancy, your blood amount typically increases to provide nourishment to the growing baby and this might lead to a reduction in concentration of haemoglobin in the blood, causing anaemia. Fortunately, most of the patients with anaemia in pregnancy can be managed well, and it usually does not lead to any major complications.
What are the causes of anaemia during pregnancy?
Anaemia during pregnancy is very common and is usually very mild. There are hundreds of possible reasons for becoming anaemic while pregnant. Here is a list of the commonest causes of anaemia in pregnancy:
- Iron deficiency anaemia – Iron deficiency during pregnancy is very common. In this type of anaemia, your body does not have enough iron to produce haemoglobin. This results in low haemoglobin during pregnancy.
- Folate deficiency anaemia – Folate is a type of vitamin B that is required to produce new cells, including red blood cells. During pregnancy, your body needs more folate for taking care of your growing baby as well as your own body. However, you may not be ingesting sufficient quantities of folate to meet the increased demand and this could cause low haemoglobin in pregnancy.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia – Vitamin B12 is required by your body to produce healthy red blood cells. When your diet is deficient of vitamin B12, your body may not be able to produce enough red blood cells, which in turn may cause a drop in the haemoglobin levels during pregnancy.
Folate and Vitamin B12 levels are not just important for you, but they are crucial for the baby’s growth too. Deficiency of these vitamins can cause several abnormalities in the baby, like neural tube defects, low birth weight or even preterm labour.
What increases my chances of developing anaemia during pregnancy?
Here is a list of risk factors that can make you anaemic while pregnant:
- Multiple pregnancy (twins or triplets)
- Excessive morning sickness
- Pregnancy at an early age (age below 21 years)
- Having two pregnancies too close (less than a year’s gap)
- Eating excessive junk food during pregnancy
- Previous history of anaemia in pregnancy
I am pregnant, but how do I know whether I am anaemic or not?
Symptoms of anaemia in pregnancy can be mild to begin with, and might go unnoticed. As anaemia worsens, you may experience more severe symptoms.
Symptoms of anaemia in pregnancy include:
- Easy fatigability or weakness
- Dizziness and black outs
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular or rapid heart beats
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Hands and feet remaining cold
How will my doctor diagnose anaemia?
Your doctor will first examine you and check for signs of anaemia in pregnancy.
Signs of anaemia in pregnancy include:
- Paleness of skin, lips and nails
- Tachycardia (rapid heartbeats)
- Swelling on feet
Apart from these signs, your doctor may ask you for some of the following tests, to confirm the cause of anaemia. Common tests for diagnosing the cause of anaemia are:
- Complete blood count – to assess haemoglobin levels and red blood cells count
- Iron levels
- Vitamin B12 levels
- Folic acid levels
What are the possible complications of anaemia during pregnancy?
Low haemoglobin during pregnancy is not only harmful for the mother, but for the growing baby as well. If you are anaemic while pregnant, you may be at an increased risk of developing any of the following complications:
- Early delivery or pre-term baby
- You may require blood transfusion after delivery, to compensate for the blood loss
- Post-partum depression
Anaemia during pregnancy effects on baby includes the following:
- Low birth weight baby
- Neural tube defect or spina bifida (if folate deficiency)
- Anaemia in the baby
- Developmental delays
What is the treatment of anaemia in pregnancy?
The treatment of anaemia during pregnancy is purely dependent on the cause of anaemia. You may need to alter your diet and might require certain medications for correcting the deficiency.
If you are experiencing iron deficiency anaemia symptoms, your dietary changes include addition of:
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli
- Iron rich grains and cereals
- Beans, tofu and lentils
- Red meat and poultry
Anaemia due to low iron in pregnancy might also require you to take iron supplements.
If your anaemia is because of folate or vitamin B12, you are required to add foods rich in folate as well as vitamin B12, which includes green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis and dairy products. If this is not sufficient for combatting anaemia in pregnancy, then you may require folic acid and vitamin B12 supplementation.
Talk to your doctor if you have been experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms and understand how to reverse them.