What is Gestational Anemia?
Anemia which develops during pregnancy is known as gestational anemia. When you have anemia, the blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body tissues and to the baby. The fetus gets its nourishment and oxygen through the blood, deficiency of which can cause deficiency of nutrients and affect the development.
During pregnancy, more blood is required by the body for the growth of the baby. If the diet lacks in iron and other nutrients required by the body to increase the red blood cell production, gestational anemia develops.
Mild anemia is normal during pregnancy, but severe anemia can be due to low iron and vitamin which can put the life of the mother and the baby at risk (1). It also predisposes women to postpartum hemorrhage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and postnatal sepsis (2).
Risk Factors Associated With Gestational Anemia
A female is at an increased risk of developing anemia during pregnancy if,
- She has a very little gap between the two pregnancies
- If she is pregnant with two or more fetus
- She is suffering from excessive vomiting
- Does not consume iron rich food
- Heavy pre-pregnancy menstrual flow
- If she was anemic before pregnancy
Types of Gestational Anemia
There are 3 types of anemia which can develop during pregnancy:
Iron-deficiency Anemia. This is the most common type and develops when the body has low iron levels to produce an adequate amount of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein present in the blood, which performs the function of carrying oxygen to the tissues of the body.
Folate-deficiency Anemia. Folate is a vitamin required by the body to produce healthy red blood cells. It can be obtained naturally from the green leafy vegetables. A female needs to increase the intake of folate during pregnancy, deficiency of which leads to low production of red blood cells to transport oxygen to all parts of the body. Deficiency of folate can lead to birth defects such as spina bifida and low birth weight.
Vitamin B12 Deficiency. Vitamin B12 is also required by the body to produce red blood cells. If during pregnancy a female is not able to maintain the required amount of vitamin B12 intake, anemia results.
A woman who doesn’t eat meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs fall in under the risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency which may further become a cause of birth defects such as neural tube abnormalities and preterm labor.
Symptoms of Gestational Anemia
The common symptoms of gestational anemia are:
- Paleness in skin, lips, and nails
- Fatigue and weakness
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty in concentration
Most of these symptoms normally occur during pregnancy, therefore a blood test is required to confirm the diagnosis and start treatment if required.
How to Detect Gestational Anemia?
- A blood test is recommended by the gynecologist in the first prenatal appointment, to check whether or not a patient has anemia. The blood test includes a hemoglobin test and a hematocrit test (measures the percentage of red blood cells in the blood sample).
- If a person has lower than normal level of hemoglobin and hematocrit value she may be diagnosed anemic.
- Another blood test is recommended in the second and the third trimester, even if the test were normal in the first trimester.
How Can Gestational Anemia Risk Pregnancy?
Severe anemia during pregnancy can lead to the following condition.
- Preterm and a low-birth-weight baby
- Postpartum depression
- Anemia in the baby
- Blood transfusion
- Developmental delays in the baby
How is Gestational Anemia Treated?
If anemia is detected during pregnancy iron and folic acid supplements are added along with other prenatal vitamins. The doctor also suggests increasing the intake of iron and folate acid diet.
If vitamin B12 is deficient, the supplements are advised and diet including more animal foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy products is suggested.
How Can You Prevent Gestational Anemia?
- Getting enough iron and eating well-balanced meals helps in preventing gestational anemia.
- Iron-rich foods include lean meat, poultry, fish, green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, tofu, eggs, grains, nuts, and seeds.
- Vitamin C helps absorb iron, therefore strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, and other citrus fruits and juices can be included in the diet.
- Food rich in folates such as green leafy vegetables, dried beans, citrus fruits, fortified breads, and cereals can also be added to the diet.
Always follow your doctor’s advice on to how much prenatal vitamin is required during different phase of pregnancy. Also, be regular and follow the advice well to have a healthy and safe child birth.
- American Journal of Epidemiology: https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/183/11/1024/207778
- World Health Organization (WHO): https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/8/13-125886/en/
- American Pregnancy Association: https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/anemia-during-pregnancy/
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/anemia-during-pregnancy/faq-20384560
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/recommendations.html
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