No matter how asymptomatic a disease is normally, being pregnant changes everything. Pre-existing conditions during pregnancy can have a huge impact on maternal health and fetal development. Anemia, in particular, can quickly change from a mild concern to something you have to think about every day. Here’s a look at understanding what anemia is and how it can impact your pregnancy.
Anemia is a blood disease characterized by insufficient red blood cells. Red blood cells (RBCs) are responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body with the help of a protein called hemoglobin. When you don’t have enough RBCs, your body doesn’t get as much oxygen as they should. Anemia can either occur because your body simply doesn’t make enough RBCs, your body destroys RBCs, or extreme bleeding (so much your body can’t make RBCs fast enough).
There are several different types of anemia, with a wide range of severity and permanence. The most common form of anemia is iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is caused, unsurprisingly, by a body-wide lack of iron, which is necessary for the production of hemoglobin. Mild anemia is a common issue in many pregnancies, particular iron deficiency, folate deficiency, and Vitamin B12 deficiency type anemias. There are more than 10 different types of anemia, some resulting from bodily problems, some signs of a more serious disease, and some the result of external factors.
Most people with anemia frequently feel worn out and exhausted. Of course, almost every pregnant woman often feels tired, so that’s not always the greatest indicator. According to the Mayo Clinic, other signs of anemia include: feeling weak, a pale or yellow tint to the skin, feeling light headed, shortness of breath, abnormal heartbeat, chest pain, headaches, and cold hands and feet. You may also bruise easily. These symptoms are the same regardless of pregnancy, but you may find any associated fatigue becomes significantly worse.
Expectant mothers’ bodies are providing all the function and nutrients for not just one, but two bodies. Also consider that the amount of blood in a pregnant woman’s body increases by almost an extra half -- that’s 50% more blood pumping through your body. Blood that should be delivering a lot more oxygen. Being pregnant and anemic means you have 50% more blood unable to deliver 50% more oxygen. That’s assuming your body can produce the extra blood needed for creating life -- something not every anemic body can do.
With the presence of anemia, not only are mom’s body parts struggling to function correctly, but the baby isn’t getting as much oxygen and/or blood as they should, either. This can increase the risk of a baby born preterm or underweight, with anemia themselves, or developmental delays. Moms with anemia may be more likely to need for a blood transfusion in the event of excessive bleeding during delivery or develop postpartum depression.
Getting plenty of iron, folate, and B12 is one of the best ways of staving off the development of a deficiency-related anemia during pregnancy, and most forms of anemia can be treated for a safe and healthy pregnancy. If you suspect you have anemia, talk to your doctor or midwife immediately. Diagnosis is a simple as a blood test and a few days wait for the results.