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Pregnancy Anaemia

Anaemia in pregnancy is common, but if it does occur it is usually one of two types: iron-deficiency anaemia or folic acid deficiency anaemia.  If it does exist, anaemia can pose quite a threat to a mother and her unborn child, which is why your blood is always tested at your first antenatal visit.

During pregnancy a mother's blood volume increases, but not the number of red blood cells.  A blood test showing a reduction in the concentration in haemoglobin (the red pigment in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen around the body) may (but does not necessarily) indicate anaemia.  Women used to be given iron supplements routinely when they were pregnant, usually in combination with folic acid, but this is less common now although they may be given a supplement if a degree of anaemia is suspected or diagnosed.  Symptoms of anaemia include:

  • shortness of breath
  • tiredness
  • feeling faint and actually fainting
  • palpitations
  • loss of appetite
  • paleness of skin
  • headaches

Having been tested for anaemia at the beginning of pregnancy, women are usually re-checked at their 28 week check because it is better to pick up on any problems before delivery.  Anaemia in late pregnancy can pose a threat to both the mother's and baby's health, but if picked up can be treated.

Red meat remains the most comprehensive source of iron.  It is perfectly possible to compensate for meat with a wide range of vegetable sources of iron, but it is particuarly important for women who choose a non-meat diet to ensure that their diet is adequately balanced for their needs in pregnancy.  Folic acid is available in leafy green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, as long as they are not over-cooked.  Avocado pears and mushrooms are another source of folic acid.

When iron or folic acid supplements are necessary, these will be prescribed by your doctor.  Some women find that iron supplements cause side-effects that are difficult to tolerate - constipation, for example.  As there are a number of different types of supplement available it may be possible to find one that is better suited to you.  Refer back to your midwife rather than just discontinuing any supplement because anaemia during pregnancy needs to be treated effectively.

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