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Iron Deficiency Anemia During Pregnancy: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Iron deficiency anemia means that you don't have enough iron in your blood. You need even more iron when you are pregnant to make the extra blood you need for your baby to grow.

Without enough iron, you may feel weak and sick. Your skin may look pale. Low iron can cause problems when you give birth. And you may have a higher risk for problems after you have the baby. Having anemia in pregnancy may make it more likely to have your baby early (preterm birth). Or your baby may have a low birth weight. Treating iron deficiency early in your pregnancy lowers these risks and decreases the chance of having more serious anemia after your baby is born.

When you’re pregnant, it can be hard to get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat. Eat a variety of foods and take a daily prenatal vitamin supplement with iron, folic acid, and vitamin D.

Eating iron-rich foods and taking a daily prenatal vitamin can lower your risk of developing anemia. Eat foods with iron every day:

  • Include meat, chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, fish, and shellfish with your meals.
  • Add tofu or edamame (soybeans) to a stir fry or salad.
  • Add dried beans, peas, and lentils to soups, salads, casseroles, chili, and sauces.
  • Add molasses, nuts, or dried fruit (raisins, dates, or apricots) to cereals and baked goods.
  • Choose whole grains and cereals fortified or enriched with iron.
  • Cook in cast-iron cookware to increase the amount of iron in foods.
  • Eat fruits or vegetables along with your iron-rich foods. The vitamin C in them helps your body absorb the iron.
Go to Alberta Health Services Iron and your health page for more information. You'll find out about how much iron you may need and foods with iron and serving sizes.

If the food you eat does not give you as much iron as you need, iron pills can help. Iron is included in some multivitamins and in prenatal vitamins. Check the label to make sure your daily prenatal vitamin has iron. Ask your doctor, midwife, dietitian, or pharmacist if you have questions about vitamins.

Often when you take iron pills you may notice dark coloured bowel movements.You may also become constipated. To avoid this drink enough water, include physical activity into your day, and eat foods that are high in fiber.

Eating iron-rich foods and taking a daily prenatal vitamin can lower your risk of developing anemia. Eat foods with iron every day:

  • Include meat, chicken, turkey, pork, eggs, fish, and shellfish with your meals.
  • Add tofu or edamame (soybeans) to a stir fry or salad.
  • Add dried beans, peas, and lentils to soups, salads, casseroles, chili, and sauces.
  • Add molasses, nuts, or dried fruit (raisins, dates, or apricots) to cereals and baked goods.
  • Choose whole grains and cereals fortified or enriched with iron.
  • Cook in cast-iron cookware to increase the amount of iron in foods.
  • Eat fruits or vegetables along with your iron-rich foods. The vitamin C in them helps your body absorb the iron.
Go to Alberta Health Services Iron and your health page for more information. You'll find out about how much iron you may need and foods with iron and serving sizes.

If the food you eat does not give you as much iron as you need, iron pills can help. Iron is included in some multivitamins and in prenatal vitamins. Check the label to make sure your daily prenatal vitamin has iron. Ask your doctor, midwife, dietitian, or pharmacist if you have questions about vitamins.

Often when you take iron pills you may notice dark coloured bowel movements.You may also become constipated. To avoid this drink enough water, include physical activity into your day, and eat foods that are high in fiber.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take a daily prenatal vitamin that has iron in it when you are pregnant and breastfeeding. If your doctor or midwife recommends an extra iron supplement, take it as directed. Call your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your supplements.
  • If your doctor or midwife tells you to take iron pills:
    • You may need to take iron with food to avoid an upset stomach. Taking the iron pill in the evening may also help.
    • Do not take antacids or caffeine drinks (such as coffee, tea, or cola) at the same time or within 2 hours of the time that you take your iron pill. They can keep your body from absorbing the iron well.
    • Calcium is an important nutrient during pregnancy. But calcium can interfere with how well your body absorbs iron. Avoid having dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), or calcium pills within 1 hour of taking your iron supplement. Try to avoid combining foods that are high in iron with foods high in calcium (dairy products).
    • Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. Try taking iron pills with fruits or vegetables such as oranges, potatoes, strawberries, or broccoli. The vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron.
    • Iron pills may cause stomach problems, such as heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and cramps. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet to get enough fibre each day.
    • Do not stop taking iron pills without talking to your doctor or midwife first. Even after you start to feel better, it will take several months for your body to build up a store of iron. Call your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your iron pills.
    • If you miss a pill, do not take a double dose of iron or prenatal vitamins.
    • Keep iron pills out of the reach of small children. An overdose of iron can be very dangerous.
  • Talk to your doctor, dietitian, or midwife about any cravings for non-food items such as dirt, ashes, clay, or chalk. These cravings can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line if:

  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint
  • You have new fatigue, or your fatigue is worse.
  • You have problems with your medicine, such as nausea and constipation.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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