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Anemia in Pregnancy

Are you getting the iron you need to prevent being anemic?

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Updated July 17, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Pregnant woman making salad.
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Anemia in pregnancy is common and it is most often caused by an iron deficiency. Iron is a mineral that everyone needs. Pregnant women need more iron for a variety of reasons. The biggest reason is that iron helps your body make new blood to carry the oxygen and nutrients to the baby during pregnancy. By the end of pregnancy you will have a 30-50% increase in your blood in your body than when you began the pregnancy. Your need for iron will increase 100% over your requirements pre-pregnancy.

Towards the end of pregnancy your baby will also be storing iron for his or her first six months of life. Babies generally do not get much iron from their mother's diets during this time and depend upon their own stores of iron.

Generally, women are tested at least twice during pregnancy for anemia. Usually at the beginning of pregnancy and again around 28 weeks. I would also tell you that between 24 - 32 weeks is not a good time to test for iron deficiency. The body, at this point, has just been through a large surge in blood volume, and it does take awhile for all the levels to balance out. So if you are tested during this time frame and it shows that you are anemic, you might not be. Ask to be retested around 34 - 36 weeks.

Being low in iron can also cause you to feel more fatigued than normal in pregnancy, make you more susceptible to illness and infection, and other possible complications.

There are some risks factors for low iron:

 
  • If you have been dieting to lose weight.
  • If your pregnancies are closer than two years apart
  • If you bled heavily with your periods
  • If you don't eat foods high in iron
  • If you have tested low or been told you have anemia

The very best way to get the iron you need is from your diet, iron pills are not the answer for everyone. Iron pills can cause diarrhea, constipation, upset stomach, prevent your body from taking in other nutrients, and are not as readily absorbed as iron from food. It will also take up to six weeks for any treatment you use to show up, generally. If you do need supplemental iron, consider getting it from liquid sources, such as: Chlorophyll, Flora-Dix (vitamin), or herbs such as yellow dock. Your practitioner can give you more information.

There are plenty of ways to get more iron in your diet. Here are a few hints to help increase the absorption of the iron in your diet:

 
  • Increase vitamin C when taking iron
  • Cook with cast iron (This can increase the iron by 50%.)
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Avoid excessive bran

Okay, so now that you know why you need iron, and all the tricks to make it more readily absorbed, lets find out where you can get iron into your diet:

 

  • Green Leafy Vegetables
    Broccoli
    Spinach
    Greens
    Kale
    Bok Choy
  • Beans
    Tofu
    Kidney Beans
    Black-eyed peas
  • Whole Grain Bread & Cereal
  • Eggs
  • Brown or Converted Rice
  • Enriched Pasta
  • Lean Red Meats

You will need iron for the rest of your life, everyone needs iron. Preventing or treating anemia will make you feel better and healthier throughout your life.

Readers Respond: Were you anemic during your pregnancy?

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