Anemia in pregnancy – why iron is so important

Side sleeping when pregnant reduces stillborn risk

Feeling completely exhausted during early pregnancy is really common, and usually, comes with the territory of growing a little human.

But sometimes, overwhelming tiredness is actually your body trying to tell you it’s struggling to cope without something it desperately needs – iron.  And not dealing with an iron deficiency can cause serious issues later in pregnancy and that’s why your first blood test will include an iron level check.

What is anemia in pregnancy?

Anemia happens when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. You need iron to build red blood cells and iron deficiency is the biggest cause of anemia in pregnancy.

When you’re growing a baby your body goes from having around five litres of blood to eight litres later in pregnancy – s0 making all that extra blood means you need lots more iron, B12 and folate.

What are the symptoms?

Initially, you may think you’re just tired from growing a baby, but your fatigue may worsen, especially around week 20 when your blood volume increases significantly. You’ll feel weak, dizzy and may even start to faint.

Other signs include shortness of breath, pale skin, a rapid heartbeat and numb or cold hands and feet. You may also find it hard to concentrate – so don’t just write this off as baby brain!

How can I avoid getting anemia?

Your best bet is to look after yourself. Eat well and make sure you’re taking pregnancy vitamins and have your first-trimester blood tests.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • meats
  • iron-fortified bread and cereals
  • eggs
  • spinach
  • dried fruit

Having a glass of fruit juice or other vitamin C-rich foods like tomato and broccoli with a meal will help boost the amount of iron your body absorbs.

Foods that are a good source of B12 include:

  • meat
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • eggs
  • dairy products

We asked our Mum’s Grapevine community how they dealt with anemia and what are their best pregnancy iron-boosting tips*:

“I had iron I.V. (intravenous) sessions! The doctor booked it for me … it was once a week for eight weeks.” – Mary

“I was very iron deficient in my first pregnancy. My OB recommended an over the counter iron supplement and also Metamucil – an orange flavoured fibre drink to help prevent constipation sometimes caused by the iron.” – Rochelle 

“I was given a list of foods high in iron as I was also low on iron and Milo has one of the highest amounts! So I drank Milo. I think I had one glass a day.” – Kristina 

“Apparently cooking in a cast-iron frying pan helps (my mother-in-law had to do this for my husband when he was a toddler and it worked..!).” – Krista

“I had to go on iron tablets as per obstetrician. He also told me to boost my red meat intake. Towards the end of the pregnancy, I almost had to have an infusion as well but my levels increased just enough not to have one!” – April 

“Add spinach to everything! I rarely eat red meat and have awesome iron levels. I get the frozen spinach and add it to bolognese and quiches. Use the spinach leaves on any sandwich in place of lettuce.” – Julie 

“Liver … a great source of iron … that is if you can stomach it!” – Patti 

“Red meat, dark green vegetables and baked potato – all great sources of natural iron. Worked for me and a good trial before pills and transfusion.” – Naomi

 

*Consult your doctor or midwife if you think you might have an iron deficiency before trying any iron-boosting treatments.