Pregnant women have a significantly increased risk of iron deficiency and related anemia – as many as 50% of all pregnant women develop iron deficiency anemia as noted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – and if left untreated, it can prove dangerous for both mom and baby.
What Happens During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, a woman’s body will produce almost 50% more blood than usual in order to support her own body’s needs as well as her baby’s; increased blood volume means increased iron needs. Towards the end of the pregnancy, the baby begins storing enough iron for the first 6 months of his/her life. If this increased need for iron is not met, then the mother may become iron deficient or develop iron deficiency anemia.
The Dangers of Iron Deficiency in Pregnancy
Iron deficiency doesn’t just put the expectant mother at risk during pregnancy, but can also have lasting effects once the baby is born.
Although the mom-to-be is no longer losing iron-rich blood due to menstruation, her body’s red blood cell (RBC) production is ramped up during pregnancy. Without sufficient iron stores, RBC production is reduced as well as energy-boosting oxygen supply – this can cause extreme fatigue, one of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency/iron deficiency anemia.
Babies of anemic mothers run the risk of not being able to store enough iron before they’re born. Not only can this increase the risk of premature birth or a low-birth-weight baby, but also heightens the chances of the child developing iron deficiency in the first months of his/her life.
Iron is necessary for proper neurodevelopment. Consequently, iron deficiency in the early stages of life has been shown to impair thinking and cognitive development as well as social engagement. Some researchers have even noted an association between iron levels and autism, however absolute causation is not yet known.
Symptoms of ID/IDA during Pregnancy
At first, a woman may not even realize that her symptoms are anything out of the ordinary and just chalk them up to being pregnant. This is understandable given that the body goes through so many changes during pregnancy, and many of the symptoms of iron deficiency are similar to those of other conditions.
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat;
- Pale skin, nails, and lips;
- Shortness of breath;
- Cold hands and feet;
- Pica (especially cravings to chew ice).
Prevention & Treatment
Many women are already iron deficient before they get pregnant, which increases the risk of anemia even more. Supplementing the body’s extra need for iron during pregnancy will require eating more foods rich in iron, along with prenatal vitamins. Your doctor may also recommend adding an oral iron supplement to your diet to prevent iron deficiency.
While there are plenty of ways to increase your iron intake from the foods you eat, it’s also good measure to take an iron supplement during pregnancy. This will help to ensure that you are getting what you and your baby need to be healthy pre and post-birth! Consult your doctor about proper dosing of your iron supplement.
Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs