Anemia occurs when your blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the rest of your body. Without the right amount of oxygen, your body can’t work as well as it should, and you feel tired and run down. Your body needs iron to make red blood cells. During pregnancy, you must produce about 50% more blood to meet the oxygen needs of your growing baby. If you do not get enough iron during pregnancy, you can become anemic (have anemia). If you have anemia during pregnancy, it can deprive both you and your baby of oxygen.
Iron deficiency during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of premature birth and low birthweight.
Getting the right amount of iron
Before getting pregnant, women should get about 18 milligrams (mg) of iron per day. During pregnancy, the amount of iron you need jumps to 27 mg per day. Most pregnant women get the right amount of iron by taking prenatal vitamins and eating foods that contain iron.
You can help to lower your risk of anemia by eating iron-rich foods throughout your pregnancy. Foods high in iron include:
- Dried fruits and beans
- Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas
- Organ meats (liver, giblets)
- Red meat
- Seafood (clams, oysters, sardines)
- Spinach and other dark leafy greens
Foods containing vitamin C can increase the amount of iron your body absorbs. So it’s a good idea to eat foods like orange juice, tomatoes, strawberries and grapefruit every day.
Calcium (in dairy products like milk) and coffee, tea, egg yolks, fiber and soybeans can block your body from absorbing iron. Try to avoid these when eating iron-rich foods.
Signs of anemia
Anemia develops over time. As it progresses, you may have these signs and symptoms:
- Fatigue (very common)
- Cold hands and feet
- Pale skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
Your health care provider uses a simple blood test to check for anemia several times during pregnancy. Make sure you let your provider know if you have any of the signs or symptoms. If you are anemic, your provider may prescribe an iron supplement.