It is estimated that 1 in 3 women of reproductive age are anaemic, this makes it a global public health problem, but there is so much that we can do to help combat it.
What is Anaemia?
Anaemia is a blood condition that develops when you don’t have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen around your body and to your baby.
Your body undergoes huge changes in pregnancy and your blood volume increases by approximately 30%, this increases the amount of iron that your body needs to create haemoglobin in pregnancy.
When your body needs more iron than it has available, you can become anaemic.
Pregnancy is often the cause of iron-deficiency anaemia. Iron-deficiency anaemia can happen when you are not eating enough food with iron in.
Your midwife will routinely offer you a blood test at booking and at 28 weeks to screen for anaemia.
What are the common symptoms?
tiredness and lack of energy
shortness of breath
feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart
You are at higher risk of anaemia in 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
What is the risk of being anaemic in pregnancy?
Most people with anaemia in pregnancy go on to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. However, anaemia has been linked to pregnancy complications before and after birth if it isn’t treated.
These can include:
low birthweight baby
your body being less able to cope with blood loss during birth
iron deficiency in your baby in their first 3 months of life
problems with your baby’s mental development
Best foods to treat iron-deficiency anaemia:
Most people should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet. Eating well will help you either prevent anaemia or manage your symptoms if you have it.
Good sources of iron include…
Meat (red meat such as beef, lamb is best)
Pulses (beans, peas and lentils)
Fresh green leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, spinach, watercress, parsley, spring onions
Seeds, such as sunflower or sesame seeds
Dried prunes, raisins, figs and apricots
Fish such as grilled mackerel and canned tuna
Wholegrains, such as brown rice
Nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts and brazil nuts
Some fruits and vegetables containing vitamin C can help the body absorb iron.
Try to avoid drinking tea and coffee (including decaf versions), especially with a meal, because this can stop iron being absorbed into your body.
How is anaemia treated?
If you have anaemia, you’ll probably be prescribed iron supplements (tablets) or as a liquid to take every day. Vitamin C can help the body absorb iron, so you could try taking the tablets with a drink containing vitamin C such as orange juice.
The supplements may also give you some stomach pain, constipation and your poo may be black. This is normal but call your midwife if you’re worried.
You may find it easier to cope with side effects if you take the supplements with or soon after food.
Your symptoms should get better after taking iron supplements.
If it doesn’t, or if your anaemia is severe, you’ll probably be referred to a haematologist (a doctor expert in blood disorders).
You may be given iron through intravenous therapy (IV). You may also be offered a blood transfusion.