Anaemia in pregnancy

Anaemia in pregnancy occurs when the body lacks iron or B12 and folate

Anaemia: What it means for pregnant women

If you suffer from anaemia when pregnant, here's what you need to know

At a glance

  • It's possible you will develop anaemia during pregnancy
  • Caused by a lack of iron or B12 and folate
  • Taking supplements or adjusting your diet can help

What is anaemia?

Anaemia is a condition whereby someone doesn’t have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin which carries oxygen to your body’s tissues. Anaemia in pregnancy can include the following types:

Iron deficiency anaemia – This occurs when your body has an iron deficiency resulting in your blood not having enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body. Your body uses iron to produce red blood cells which then provide oxygen to your tissues and organs (and your baby!).

The most common symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include:

  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Looking tired or particularly pale
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations

Vitamin B12 or Folate deficiency anaemia – This occurs when a lack of B12 or folate (B9) cause the body to produce abnormally large red blood cells that are unable to function properly.

The most common symptoms for Vitamin B12 or Folate deficiency anaemia include:

  • Tiredness
  • Lack of energy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression
  • Pins and needles
  • A sore or red tongue

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms for either type of anaemia you should contact your doctor.

Why is it more likely I’ll get anaemia in pregnancy?

When you’re pregnant your body will be producing a lot more blood (close to 50% more). This means your body produces a lot more iron and other vitamins to ensure that you’re producing enough red blood cells.

For many women this extra demand for blood from the body is too much and results in anaemia, this is more common during the second and third trimester as the baby grows and enters into the final stages of development.

How can I treat anaemia during pregnancy?

If you become anaemic during your pregnancy you might need to start taking supplements for iron or folic acid in addition to any other vitamins. You might also be able to get the nutrients you require by changing your diet including:

  • Vitamin C eg. orange juice aids the absorption of iron from food/iron supplements 
  • Brown rice
  • Pulses and beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Meat, fish and tofu
  • Eggs
  • Dried fruit

Anaemia will usually take a couple of months to resolve, but you should continue to take supplements to increase your reserves of iron and other vitamins.

Can anaemia in pregnancy harm my baby?

Your baby will be taking its share of iron and vitamins before you do (which can often be the reason why you develop anaemia) so they shouldn’t be affected. However, if you do nothing to resolve your anaemia it’s possible that your baby’s iron stores will not be as strong after birth and they may have an increased risk of developing anaemia later on in infancy. There is also the chance of complications during the birth or following birth due to a higher chance of blood loss.

At a glance

  • It's possible you will develop anaemia during pregnancy
  • Caused by a lack of iron or B12 and folate
  • Taking supplements or adjusting your diet can help

Pregnancy conditions