You're in! See your latest actions or visit profile and dashboard
Account Information
Dashboard
March for Babies Dashboard

  • Preferences
  • Messages
  • Favorites

Pregnancy complications

  • Pregnancy complications may need special medical care.
  • Common complications include diabetes and anemia.
  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you feel fine.
Now playing:
save print
e-mail

Anemia

Anemia occurs when the number or size of a person’s red blood cells are too low. Red blood cells are important because they carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body. Without enough oxygen, your body cannot work as well as it should, and you feel tired and run down.

Anemia can affect anyone, but women are at greater risk for this condition. In women, iron and red blood cells are lost when bleeding occurs from very heavy or long periods (menstruation).

Anemia is common in pregnancy because a woman needs to have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around her body and to her baby. So it's important for women to prevent anemia before, during and after pregnancy. Women will probably be tested for anemia at least twice during pregnancy: during the first prenatal visit and then again between 24 and 28 weeks.

Causes of anemia

Iron deficiency

Usually, a woman becomes anemic (has anemia) because her body isn’t getting enough iron. Iron is a mineral that helps to create red blood cells. About half of all pregnant women don’t have enough iron in their body (iron deficiency). In pregnancy, iron deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of preterm birth and low birthweight.

Illness or disease

Some women may have an illness that causes anemia. Diseases such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia affect the quality and number of red blood cells the body produces. If you have a disease that causes anemia, talk with your health provider about how to treat anemia.

Signs of anemia

Anemia takes some time to develop. In the beginning, you may not have any signs or they may be mild. But as it gets worse, you may have these symptoms:

  • Fatigue (very common)
  • Weakness (very common)
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Numbness or coldness in your hands and feet
  • Low body temperature
  • Pale skin
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Irritability
  • Not doing well at work or in school

Because your heart has to work harder to pump more oxygen-rich blood through the body, all of these signs and symptoms can occur.

Getting enough iron

Before getting pregnant, women should get about 18 milligrams (mg) of iron per day. During pregnancy, the amount of iron you need jumps to 27 mg per day. Most pregnant women get this amount from eating foods that contain iron and taking prenatal vitamins that contain iron. Some women need to take iron supplements to prevent iron deficiency.

Iron-rich foods

You can help lower your risk of anemia by eating foods that contain iron during your entire pregnancy. These foods include:

  • Poultry (dark meat)
  • Dried fruits (apricots, prunes, figs, raisins, dates)
  • Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grains
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Liver and other meats
  • Seafood (learn about the safe kinds of seafood you can eat during pregnancy)
  • Spinach, broccoli, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables
  • Baked potato with skin
  • Beans and peas
  • Nuts and seeds

Foods containing vitamin C can increase the amount of iron your body absorbs. So it's a good idea to eat foods like orange juice, tomatoes, strawberries and grapefruit every day.

Coffee, tea, egg yolks, milk, fiber and soy protein can block your body from absorbing iron. Try to avoid these when eating iron-rich foods.

Iron supplements

If you are anemic, your health care provider may prescribe an iron supplement. Some iron supplements may cause heartburn, constipation or nausea. Here are some tips to avoid or reduce these problems:

  • Take the pills with meals.
  • Start with small doses and work your way up to the full dose slowly. For example, try taking one pill a day for a few days, then two pills until you aren't bothered by that amount. Increase the number of pills until you're taking the amount your health care provider recommends.
  • Try different brands to see which works best for you. Be sure to discuss any changes with your health care provider ahead of time.
  • Avoid taking iron pills at bedtime.

Reduce constipation by drinking more water and by eating more fiber. Fiber is found in whole grain foods, breakfast cereals, fruits and vegetables.

April 2009

When to call your provider

  • If you have heavy bleeding or bleeding for more than 24 hours
  • If you have fever, chills or severe headaches
  • If you have vision problems, like blurriness
  • If you have quick weight gain or your legs and face swell

Most common questions

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis (also called mono) is an infection usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It’s sometimes caused by another virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). EBV and CMV are part of the herpes virus family. Mono is most common in teenagers and young adults, but anyone can get it. Mono is called the “kissing disease” because it’s usually passed from one person to another through saliva. In addition to kissing, it can also be passed through sneezing, coughing or sharing pillows, drinks, straws, and toothbrushes.

You can have mono without having any symptoms. But even if you don’t get sick, you can still pass it to others. Symptoms can include:

  • Achy muscles
  • Belly pain
  • Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in your neck

If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse, tell your health care provider. He’ll most likely do a physical exam and test your blood to find out for sure if you have mono.

There’s no vaccine to prevent mono. There’s also no specific treatment. The best care is to take it easy and get as much rest as you can. It may take a few weeks before you fully recover.

Can Rh factor affect my baby?

The Rh factor may be a problem if mom is Rh-negative but dad is Rh-positive. If dad is Rh-negative, there is no risk.

If your baby gets her Rh-positive factor from dad, your body may believe that your baby's red blood cells are foreign elements attacking you. Your body may make antibodies to fight them. This is called sensitization.

If you're Rh-negative, you can get shots of Rh immune globulin (RhIg) to stop your body from attacking your baby. It's best to get these shots at 28 weeks of pregnancy and again within 72 hours of giving birth if a blood test shows that your baby is Rh-positive. You won't need anymore shots after giving birth if your baby is Rh-negative. You should also get a shot after certain pregnancy exams like an amniocentesis, a chorionic villus sampling or an external cephalic version (when your provider tries to turn a breech-position baby head down before labor). You'll also want to get the shot if you have a miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy or suffer abdominal trauma.

I had a miscarriage. How long should I wait to try again?

Before getting pregnant again, it's important that you are ready both physically and emotionally. If you don't need tests or treatments to discover the cause of the miscarriage, it's usually OK for you to become pregnant after one normal menstrual cycle. However, it may take longer for you to feel emotionally ready to be pregnant again. Everyone responds differently to a miscarriage. Only you will know when you are ready to try to get pregnant again.

Are gallstones common during pregnancy?

Not common, but they do happen. Elevated hormones during pregnancy can cause the gallbladder to function more slowly, less efficiently. The gallbladder stores and releases bile, a substance produced in the liver. Bile helps digest fat. When bile sits in the gallbladder for too long, hard, solid nuggets called gallstones can form. The stones can block the flow of bile, causing indigestion and sometimes serious pain. Staying at a healthy weight during pregnancy can help lower your risk of gallstones. Exercise and eating foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, like veggies, fruits and whole grains, can help, too. Symptoms of gallstones include nausea, vomiting and intense, continuous abdominal pain. Treatment during pregnancy may include surgery to remove the gallbladder. Gallstones in the third trimester can be managed with a strict meal plan and pain medication, followed by surgery several weeks after delivery.

Have questions?

Get the app

Spread the word about March for Babies on Facebook and raise money online.