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Anemia and Pregnancy

Your body goes through significant changes when you become pregnant. The amount of blood in your body increases by about 20-30 percent, which increases the supply of iron and vitamins that the body needs to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to other cells in your body.

Many women lack the sufficient amount of iron needed for the second and third trimesters. When your body needs more iron than it has available, you can become anemic.

Mild anemia is normal during pregnancy due to an increase in blood volume. More severe anemia, however, can put your baby at higher risk for anemia later in infancy. In addition, if you are significantly anemic during your first two trimesters, you are at greater risk for having a pre-term delivery or low-birth-weight baby. Being anemic also burdens the mother by increasing the risk of blood loss during labor and making it more difficult to fight infections. 

Am I at Risk?

You are at higher risk for becoming anemic during your pregnancy if you:

  • Have two pregnancies close together
  • Are pregnant with more than one child
  • Are vomiting frequently due to morning sickness
  • Do not consume enough iron
  • Have a heavy pre-pregnancy menstrual flow

Many of the symptoms of anemia during pregnancy are also symptoms you may experience even if you are not anemic; these include:

  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Progressive paleness of the skin
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble concentrating

Doctors typically perform several tests to check the percentage of red blood cells in your plasma and the amount of hemoglobin in your blood. These are indicators of whether you are at risk for becoming anemic.

Is Pregnancy-Related Anemia Preventable?

Good nutrition is the best way to prevent anemia if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Eating foods high in iron content (such as dark green leafy vegetables, red meat, fortified cereals, eggs, and peanuts) can help ensure that you maintain the supply of iron your body needs to function properly. Your obstetrician will also prescribe vitamins to ensure that you have enough iron and folic acid. Make sure you get at least 27 mg of iron each day. If you do become anemic during your pregnancy, it can usually be treated by taking iron supplements.

Ask your doctor about your risk for anemia and make sure you are tested at your first prenatal visit. You also may want to get tested four to six weeks after delivery. Depending on your condition, your doctor may refer you to a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in blood conditions.

Where Can I Find More Information?

If you find that you are interested in learning more about blood diseases and disorders, here are a few other resources that may be of some help:

Results of Clinical Studies Published in Blood

Search Blood, the official journal of ASH, for the results of the latest blood research. While recent articles generally require a subscriber login, patients interested in viewing an access-controlled article in Blood may obtain a copy by e-mailing a request to the Blood Publishing Office.

Patient Groups

A list of Web links to patient groups and other organizations that provide information.