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Anemia During Pregnancy


What is anemia during pregnancy?

Mild anemia during a healthy pregnancy is common. Anemia means your red blood cell level is low. It can happen when you're pregnant because your body is working hard to make more blood to help your baby grow. When your body needs more iron than it has available, you can develop anemia.

You may have a higher risk for anemia during pregnancy if you:

  • Are pregnant with more than one baby.
  • Have had pregnancies that are close together.
  • Have a history of heavy periods prior to pregnancy.
  • Are having difficulty keeping food down due to morning sickness.
  • Are not able to get enough iron in your diet (people who have low or no meat, poultry, or fish in their diet).
  • Are pregnant and under 19 years of age.

Sometimes anemia during pregnancy can be caused by other problems, including not having enough iron, folic acid, vitamin C, or vitamin B12 in your diet. Each type of anemia is treated differently.

It is important to speak with your healthcare provider if you feel you are at risk of anemia. Anemia left untreated may increase the risk for your baby being born early (preterm delivery) or your baby being smaller than expected (low birth weight).

What are the symptoms?

Red blood cells make hemoglobin that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. That's why when you have anemia, you may have headaches, feel dizzy, tired, and weak. Your skin may appear pale. You may also feel your heart pounding or feel short of breath. It may be hard to focus and think clearly.

Cravings to chew on ice or for non-food items such as dirt, ashes, clay, or chalk can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia.

How is anemia during pregnancy diagnosed?

As a routine part of your prenatal visits, your doctor will take some of your blood to test. Tests may include a complete blood count to look at your red blood cells.

How is it treated?

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

Some people who are pregnant need to take iron pills along with their daily prenatal vitamin. Others may need other vitamins like folic acid or vitamin B12. Talk to your doctor or dietitian if you are worried you may not be getting enough.

For information on healthy eating during pregnancy or how to access a dietitian, go to Alberta Health Services Nutrition for pregnancy and lactation page.

It is important to get enough calcium (milk, yogurt, cheese, dairy or antacids) during pregnancy. If you're taking an extra calcium supplement, avoid taking it within 1 hour of taking your iron supplement.

Also, you may wish to watch your intake of caffeine (coffee, black tea, chocolate or cola) as it can interfere with iron absorption.

For more information about anemia or eating well during pregnancy go to:


Adaptation Date: 9/14/2023

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

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