Anaemia is the condition where the number of healthy red blood cells in your body is too low. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the body’s tissues, so a low red blood cell count indicates that the amount of oxygen in your blood is lower than it should be. It’s normal to have mild Anaemia in Pregnancy. But you may have more severe anaemia from low iron or vitamin levels or from other reasons.
Anaemia can leave you feeling tired and weak. If it is severe but goes untreated, it can increase your risk of serious complications like premature birth, low birth weight in the baby and increased maternal mortality.
There are 4 main types of anaemia seen in pregnancy:
- Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia in pregnancy. It occurs when the amount of iron in the blood is too low to produce adequate amounts of haemoglobin.
- Folate-deficiency anaemia– Folate is the vitamin found naturally in certain foods like green leafy vegetables. It 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. 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 lead to preterm labour.
- Physiological anaemia– Physiological anaemia occurs due to haemodilution. In this type of anaemia, the amount of plasma in the body increases much more than the RBCs such that the woman develops anaemia.
Blood loss during and after delivery can also cause anaemia. All pregnant women are at risk for becoming anaemic. However, the risk increases in the following cases:
- Multiple gestations
- Two pregnancies less than 2 years apart
- Sever morning sickness
- Pre-pregnancy anaemia
- Extremes of age
- Poor diet not rich in iron containing foods
The most common symptoms of anaemia during pregnancy are:
- Pale skin, lips, and nails
- Feeling tired or weak
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
While mild anaemia may not present with any obvious symptoms, severe anaemia will invariably present with one or more of these symptoms.