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Anemia in Pregnancy

When you're pregnant, you may develop anemia. When you have anemia, your blood doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your tissues and to your baby.

During pregnancy, your body produces more blood to support the growth of your baby. If you're not getting enough iron or certain other nutrients, your body might not be able to produce the amount of red blood cells it needs to make this additional blood.

It's normal to have mild anemia when you are pregnant. But you may have more severe anemia from low iron or vitamin levels or from other reasons.

Anemia can leave you feeling tired and weak. If it is severe but goes untreated, it can increase your risk of serious complications like preterm delivery.

Here's what you need to know about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of anemia during pregnancy.

Types of Anemia During Pregnancy

Several types of anemia can develop during pregnancy. These include:

Here's why these types of anemia may develop:

Iron-deficiency anemia. This type of anemia occurs when the body doesn't have enough iron to produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin. That's a protein in red blood cells. It carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. 

In iron-deficiency anemia, the blood cannot carry enough oxygen to tissues throughout the body.

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia in pregnancy.  

Folate-deficiency anemia. Folate, also called folic acid, is a type of B vitamin. The body needs folate to produce new cells, including healthy red blood cells.    

During pregnancy, women need extra folate. But sometimes they don't get enough from their diet. When that happens, the body can't make enough normal red blood cells to transport oxygen to tissues throughout the body. 

Folate deficiency can directly contribute to certain types of birth defects, such as neural tube abnormalities (spina bifida) and low birth weight.

Vitamin B12 deficiency. The body needs vitamin B12 to form healthy red blood cells. When a pregnant woman doesn't get enough vitamin B12 from her diet, her body can't produce enough healthy red blood cells. Women who don't eat meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs have a greater risk of developing vitamin B12 deficiency, which may contribute to birth defects, such as neural tube abnormalities, and could lead to preterm labor.   

Blood loss during and after delivery can also cause anemia.

Risk Factors for Anemia in Pregnancy

All pregnant women are at risk for becoming anemic. That's because they need more iron and folic acid than usual. But the risk is higher if you:

  • Are pregnant with multiples (more than one child)
  • Have had two pregnancies close together
  • Vomit a lot because of morning sickness
  • Are a pregnant teenager
  • Don't eat enough foods that are rich in iron
  • Had anemia before you became pregnant
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