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Fatigue is a natural part of many pregnancies, particularly in the first trimester and also for many women in the third trimester; usually this is nothing to worry about. In addition, it is normal to experience mild anemia while pregnant as you are having to make an excess amount of blood to provide nutrients to the baby. But if you feel like the fatigue you are experiencing is abnormally intense or you are also experiencing it in the second trimester, it might be worth having your iron levels checked as untreated moderate or severe anemia can lead to all sorts of problems for you and your baby, such as preterm birth. Aside from fatigue, other symptoms of anemia during pregnancy are:
- Pale skin, lips or nails
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
There are several different types of anemia that can develop during pregnancy and these include:
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Folate-deficiency anemia
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
In iron-deficiency anemia, the body doesn’t have iron to produce a protein in red blood cells called hemoglobin – it is this protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the rest of your body and to your baby’s body. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in pregnancy.
In folate-deficiency anemia, women don’t get enough of the vitamin called folate from their diet and folate is essential for the body to produce new cells, including red blood cells. Folate deficiency can also lead to neural tube abnormalities (such as spina bifida) and low birth weight.
Similarly, in vitamin B12 deficiency, the body needs vitamin B12 to form red blood cells and consequently anemia results if a woman is not getting enough vitamin B12 in her diet. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also lead to preterm labor and, like folate deficiency, neural tube abnormalities.
You may be at risk of anemia in pregnancy if you:
- Are pregnant with more than one baby
- Are vomiting a lot due to morning sickness
- Are prone to getting anemia (i.e. you had it before you were pregnant)
- Have had two pregnancies close together
- Don’t eat foods rich in iron
Tests for anemia include a hemoglobin test, which measures the amount of hemoglobin in your blood, and a hematocrit test, a test which measures the percentage of red blood cells in a sample of blood.
What is the treatment for anemia in pregnancy?
If you are found to have anemia while pregnant, you will be advised to start taking an iron supplement, a folic acid supplement and/or a vitamin B12 supplement. You will also be encouraged to include more foods in your diet that contain these vitamins and minerals, such as lean red meat, eggs and dairy products.
Other iron-rich foods include:
- Nuts and seeds
- Poultry and fish
- Leafy, dark green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and spinach
- Beans, lentils, and tofu
- Iron-fortified cereals and grains
In addition, you should try and eat these foods with high levels of vitamin C as this vitamin helps your body absorb the iron in these foods. Foods high in vitamin C include:
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruit and juices
In very rare cases of severe anemia, you may need an iron transfusion.
The good news is that you have given birth, your iron levels should return to normal due to your blood volume and plasma levels also returning to normal.