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Lesson of the Week: Anemia

At your week 19 prenatal checkup, you may want to ask your doctor about anemia. Anemia is a blood condition in which there are too few red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen (O2) to tissues and organs throughout your body and enable them to use the energy from food. Without oxygen, these tissues and organs -- particularly the heart and brain -- may not do their jobs as well as they should.
There are two types of anemia generally seen with pregnancy. One type of anemia is caused by the increased blood volume, which "dilutes" the number of red blood cells. This is completely normal. A second type of anemia is caused by a decrease in the amount of iron in the body. This is called iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia can develop during pregnancy because of the increasing blood volume and the fact that your growing fetus requires more iron.
You may be especially susceptible to iron deficiency anemia if:
  • You have had several babies within a short period of time
  • You are carrying more than one baby
  • You have had severe morning sickness
  • Your diet is very poor.
You should ask your doctor about having another blood test if you are experiencing extreme tiredness, breathlessness, a pounding heartbeat, pale skin, or fainting spells.
(Click Anemia Symptoms for more information about signs and symptoms of anemia.)
Treatment for iron deficiency anemia is simple. Your doctor will prescribe a daily vitamin or mineral supplement with an increased amount of iron. If you do take an iron supplement, be sure not to take it with foods that contain calcium; the calcium may block the absorption of the iron. You can also improve your iron intake by using iron cookware and eating more iron-rich foods such as:
  • Whole grains
  • Dried beans
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
  • Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Dried fruits.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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