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- What Is Iron-Deficiency Anaemia?
- Causes of Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
- Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
- Diagnosis of Anaemia
- Possible Risks of Anaemia in Pregnancy
- Treatment of Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
- How to Prevent Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
- Does Anaemia Affect the Baby During Pregnancy?
- Foods Recommended to Increase Iron Content in Pregnant Women
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Pregnancy is a beautiful and fulfilling journey – one that brings you boundless joy because you welcome your baby into the world! However, pregnancy also has certain complications that one must be careful to prevent and treat. One of the complications you may face during your pregnancy is Iron-Deficiency Anaemia, which is also characterised by Vitamin B12 deficiency. Before we dive into the treatment for this, let’s see what it is.
What Is Iron-Deficiency Anaemia?
Anaemia occurs when your body lacks the required amount of red blood cells. These cells are responsible for carrying oxygen all through your body. When your iron levels decrease, the red blood cells are unable to carry the oxygen to the tissues in your body.
Experiencing anaemia during your pregnancy is normal. However, if it is severe, it can put your baby at risk. When you experience iron-deficiency anaemia during your pregnancy, it is because the blood cannot carry the required amount of oxygen to the tissues all over your body.
Your body experiences a lot of changes during pregnancy as your heart works a little harder to give enough nourishment to the foetus. This means, the volume of your blood increases by 30% to 50%. So, what should you do when there’s an increase in blood volume? It is recommended to increase your folic acid and iron consumption.
Causes of Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
One of the most common types of anaemia during pregnancy is iron-deficiency anaemia. This usually occurs when your body lacks the iron to produce sufficient haemoglobin levels during pregnancy. Haemoglobin is a protein that is present in red blood cells. This protein helps red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body.
Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
Below are the symptoms of iron-deficiency anaemia during pregnancy:
- Irregular heartbeats
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
- Pale or yellowish skin
Now, some of these symptoms are common during pregnancy. However, you shouldn’t wait for these signs of anaemia and get blood tests done to check your haemoglobin levels. If something else is bothering you, like the fatigue you are experiencing, you should have a discussion with your doctor and let him/her know your health challenges for a smooth and safe pregnancy.
Diagnosis of Anaemia
Anaemia is diagnosed after your doctor conducts a complete blood count, also known as CBC. This shows the number of various cells that make up your blood. Here are details of the tests your doctor will run to test for anaemia:
1. Blood Tests
If your doctor sees that your red blood count is low, you will be diagnosed with anaemia and you will have low haemoglobin during pregnancy. This test is always conducted during the first trimester of your pregnancy, usually when you visit your doctor for your prenatal appointment. The blood count test is also conducted when you are 28-week pregnant.
2. Tests for Anaemia
The blood tests conducted at your first appointment usually include the following:
- Haemoglobin Test: This measures the level of haemoglobin in the blood.
- Hematocrit Test: The percentage of red blood cells present in the blood sample are checked in this test.
Possible Risks of Anaemia in Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your body undergoes a significant amount of change. This means you can get anaemic, especially if your iron levels are less than the recommended amount. However, some people are at higher risk of anaemia than others. So, how do you know you’re more likely to experience anaemia during pregnancy and what the normal haemoglobin levels during pregnancy are?
There are several factors that can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia during your pregnancy. If you have had two pregnancies close together or are pregnant with more than one child, your risk of becoming anaemic is higher. If you are vomiting because of morning sickness and the frequency is higher than usual, you can experience anaemia. Even the low consumption of iron during your pregnancy is a reason for anaemia. If you have experienced a heavy pre-pregnancy menstrual flow, you are at a high risk of becoming anaemic.
Treatment of Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
Pregnancy is an important journey as you are responsible for giving life. Sometimes, you will face challenges during your pregnancy, such as iron-deficiency anaemia. One of the best ways to treat this condition is good, regular nutrition. This helps when you’re pregnant and even when trying to get pregnant. You should consume foods that are high in iron content because this ensures your body is getting an excellent supply of iron. This helps reduce the possibility of anaemia. It is recommended that you eat foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables, red meat, peanuts, eggs, and fortified cereals as they have rich iron content.
Besides maintaining an iron-rich diet, you can also ask your doctor to prescribe iron and folic acid vitamins to ensure that your body is getting the recommended amount. During your pregnancy, you need to get a minimum of 27 mg of iron daily. The best way to treat iron-deficiency anaemia during your pregnancy is by consuming these iron supplements.
A good thing to do when you visit your doctor for your first prenatal checkup is to ask him/her what your risk of getting anaemia is. It is also recommended that you get yourself tested 4 to 6 weeks after you have had your child. After the doctor analyses your condition, he/she might refer you to a haematologist.
How to Prevent Iron-Deficiency Anaemia
While it is highly recommended that you maintain a balanced diet during pregnancy, your doctor may also prescribe iron supplements to prevent low amounts of iron in your body. These supplements are ferrous sulfate (325 mg) and should be consumed once a day. The iron requirements during pregnancy are higher than when you’re not pregnant, and the depletion of iron in your body may result in signs of severe anaemia.
Does Anaemia Affect the Baby During Pregnancy?
According to research, a mild iron deficiency during your pregnancy does not affect your baby. However, if you do not treat the mild iron-deficiency anaemia on time, the condition can get extremely severe during your pregnancy. This condition may get worse in the first two trimesters, which are the most important trimesters for your baby’s development. If untreated, your baby is at an increased risk of being born at a considerably low weight. The most severe case of iron-deficiency anaemia can also cause stillbirth and newborn death. To prevent the anaemic effect on the baby’s health, you need to make sure you get regular checkups, consume good amounts of iron and stick to a healthy diet.
Foods Recommended to Increase Iron Content in Pregnant Women
One of the best ways to ensure you have a healthy and happy pregnancy is by maintaining a balanced diet. The food you consume is extremely crucial for your health as well as your baby’s health. The consumption of junk food like chips, fatty-rich food or any sort of packaged food can cause problems during your pregnancy. Here is how to improve haemoglobin during pregnancy by changing your diet:
Including iron-rich foods in your diet is the easiest way to maintain a healthy haemoglobin level. Here are a few foods to pick on your next trip to the supermarket.
Spinach is one of the best iron-rich foods you can eat during your pregnancy. All you have to do is eat half a cup of cooked spinach. This has around 3 mg of iron and contains other vitamins and minerals like beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C and calcium that are great for your pregnancy. Including spinach in your diet takes care of the problems connected with folate-deficiency anaemia.
2. Iron-Fortified Cereal
What is the best way to provide your body iron supply? Opt for cereals that are made from iron-fortified grains. Cold cereals can offer you around 1.5 mg to 20 mg of iron per serving. On the other hand, hot cereals and oatmeal offer lower iron content, which ranges from 4.5 mg to 8 mg per serving. One of the great things about iron-fortified cereals is that they are loaded with folate and calcium, which are also beneficial for your pregnancy.
Meat is another good source of iron, offering around 2.6 to 2 mg of iron per serving. The reason meat is recommended during pregnancy is that the iron in meat, also known as heme-iron, is absorbed easily by the body. You do not have to eat fatty meats as the leaner meats have higher iron content. You can make a quick meat stir fry with veggies for a healthy and hearty meal.
4. Prune Juice and Dried Fruits
Another food that is great during pregnancy is prune juice. One 100 gm serving of prune juice gives you around 1.2 mg of iron. Besides the iron content, prune juice is also rich in fibre and helps excellently with constipation.
However, if you do not like prune juice, you can always opt for dried fruits. A half-cup of dried apricots offers 3.6 mg of iron, dried peaches offer 4.8 mg of iron, prunes offer 3.8 mg of iron and raisins offer 2.6 mg of iron. Dried fruits are also rich in fibre, and can help you relieve constipation, which is commonly experienced during pregnancy.
Surprisingly, the good old potato also helps reduce iron deficiency during pregnancy. Not only are potatoes high in vitamin C and potassium, but they are also good sources of iron and offer around 2.7 mg iron per potato. Potatoes are also rich in vitamin B6 and dietary fibre. You can whip up a batch of quick potato salad or a potato vegetable for a wholesome meal.
The humble bean is also a good source of iron, whether it is red, black or kidney beans. However, white beans have the highest iron content, giving up to 3.8 mg of iron per half-a-cup serving. These white beans can be used to make a quick, aromatic curry or a hearty soup.
7. Pumpkin Seeds
Feel like munching on something? Leave those bags of chips and indulge in a handful of pumpkin seeds as they offer up to 4.1 mg of iron. These pumpkin seeds can be roasted and stored, and you can eat them every time you have a craving. Toasting pumpkin seeds is also a good way to enjoy this snack.
The above foods are all rich in iron and ensure that you get your daily recommended levels of iron during pregnancy. Consuming these foods will help you prevent iron-deficiency during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a memorable journey, something you can look back at with a smile. However, no pregnancy comes without certain challenges. Iron-deficiency anaemia is one such challenge. The good news is that this deficiency is easily preventable and you can work on it even when you are trying to get pregnant. If you plan on having a baby, ensure your iron levels are excellent. If you are already pregnant, discuss the risks with your doctor and ask his/her for ways to restore or maintain the iron content in your body.