iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy

Iron Deficiency Anemia in Pregnancy

Iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy is really common. One who has iron deficiency anemia can feel tired and can have fatigue. In fact, during pregnancy, the person feels more exhausted.

When one is pregnant, they are more prone to develop iron deficiency anemia. The increased need of iron is essential for the developing baby and for the mother. As the blood volume during pregnancy increases, so the deficiency of iron can occur.

Iron is needed for the proper development of red blood cells (RBC). RBC helps to carry oxygen at different parts of our body tissues. When there is deficiency of iron, our body fails to provide adequate red blood cells (RBC). As a result, deficiency of oxygen supply occurs.

In this article we are going to discuss about the reasons of iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy and how one can prevent it. Lets have a look.

What Causes iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy?

Our body needs iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that is found inside of red blood cells. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen to different tissues. In pregnancy time, our blood volume increases. So, the need for increased amount of iron also increases. As the developing baby needs adequate oxygen supply, so more iron is needed to make additional red blood cells.

If one does not take enough iron or have deficiency of iron store inside body, then eventually iron deficiency anemia develops. But there are iron deficiency stages, one does not develop iron deficiency in one day. Iron deficiency develops over time.

How does iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy affect the baby?

Mild iron deficiency anemia may not cause significant problems, but severe iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy is associated with fatal outcomes such as

1. Premature birth (premature birth means when the delivery of baby occurs before 37 complete weeks of pregnancy).

2. Low birth weight baby

3. Post partum depression

4. Increased risk of new born death immediately before or just after birth.

Though depending upon the severity of iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy, the signs and symptoms develop. In most of the cases, would be mothers take iron supplements and follow the doctors instruction.

As iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy is preventable, so it is usually not a concern if one gets appropriate treatment in a timely manner. Only those who do not treat iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy see the fatal outcomes.

What are the risk factors for iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy?

One is at increased risk to develop anemia in pregnancy if

1. When pregnant with more than one baby (such as twin baby)

2. Become pregnant within a short period of time after last delivery (closely spaced pregnancy)

3. Do not take iron rich food as per body needs

4. Heavy pre-pregnancy menstrual flow

5. History of anemia before pregnancy

6. Have a bleeding history

7. Vomiting more regularly due to morning sickness

8. Have absorption problems

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy?

The symptoms of anemia are the following

1. Fatigue or weakness

2. Dizziness

3. Headache

4. Shortness of breath

5. Pale skin

6. Craving for chewing ice or pica


Severe anemia symptoms are the following

1. Low blood pressure

2. Rapid or fast heartbeat

3. Difficulty in concentration

It is always important to remember that anemia symptoms are sometimes similar with general pregnancy symptoms. So, without a blood test it is not possible to confirm whether one has anemia or not and what type of anemia it is.

If you feel fatigue and any other symptoms, it is always best to consult with your doctor about your symptoms without a delay.

How can iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy be prevented and treated?

Iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy is preventable and can be treated if it develops.  The most common way to prevent or treat the iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy are the following

1. Take adequate prenatal vitamin that contains iron. Pre natal vitamins that contain iron provide iron supply to our body and help to provide adequate RBC. So, chances to develop iron deficiency anemia will become less. During pregnancy, one needs 27 mg of iron per day. So, your doctor may recommend you additional iron supplements if your body demands.

2. Good nutrition during pregnancy is a must. One should take all the vitamins, minerals ,proteins, etc. Our body needs additional nutrition as the developing baby needs it. So, utmost care is needed so that there will be no deficiency of any element during pregnancy.

One can get iron through lean red meat, poultry and fish. Not only that iron-fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans and peas, etc. are also good choice to consume.

 The iron we get from animal sources, such as meat, is most easily absorbed. To increase  iron absorption  from plant sources and supplements, take it with a food or drink high in vitamin C (like orange juice, tomato juice or strawberries).

If you take iron supplements with orange juice, avoid the calcium-fortified variety. Although calcium is essential during pregnancy, but calcium decreases iron absorption. If there is decreased iron absorption, iron deficiency will develop. So choices of food along with combinations of food also play important role for iron absorption.

How is iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy treated?

The cause of iron deficiency anemia in pregnancy needs to be established first. There are several reasons of iron deficiency. What is the reason of iron deficiency for your case needs to be determined based on blood tests and other tests as per need.

Iron deficiency needs iron supplement, but it is also true if there is no iron deficiency then taking additional iron can be harmful. So, before taking increased iron supplements, it is vital to confirm that there is iron deficiency. Otherwise, fatal outcome can occur.

Iron can be taken as supplements via oral route (it is more common route) or intra venously (i.v). Intravenous iron supplementation is given if you cannot tolerate oral iron or there is a history of small bowel surgery or gastric bypass surgery.

Always consult with your doctor before taking any supplementation. Also, feel free to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Early treatment gives best outcome. Stay healthy and happy.


  1. William’s Hematology Book, 9th Edition
  2. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine 20th edition
  3. Davidson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine,23rd Edition
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