During pregnancy, the growing and developing baby will rely on the mom’s iron stores. Iron is critically important for survival and iron is used by the red blood cells to transport oxygen through the body. Organ development and growth in the unborn baby would virtually be impossible if not for iron.
Since the baby uses the mother’s iron stores, the soon-to-be mom must make an effort to eat foods that are rich sources of iron and ensure that they regularly take their prenatal vitamins which contain iron, among other essential vitamins and minerals. Foods and supplements will help to keep the iron stores replenished.
For the body to produce red blood cells, it will require iron, vitamin B12 as well as folic acid. If the body is deficient in any of these key these ingredients, anaemia will result.
Iron Deficiency Anaemia
This type of anaemia is very common during pregnancy but it can be effectively prevented by eating foods which are rich in iron, and by taking the prescribed prenatal vitamins.
Due to the fact that the growing and developing foetus uses the mom’s iron stores, if the stores are not replenished, the pregnant mom will run the risk of developing anaemia. Pregnant moms, who are at a particularly high risk for iron deficiency anaemia, include:
- Women who are pregnant with multiples;
- Moms who have had pregnancies close together (within two years) and where their body has been unable to replenish iron stores;
- Vegetarians or moms whose diets do not contain foods which are high in iron;
- Women following diets that lack Vitamin B12;
- Blood lost during pregnancy because of bleeding haemorrhoids and stomach ulcers.
It is important that these -high risk’ mom to be on the lookout for the tell-tale signs of this condition.
The common symptoms of anaemia include:
- Chronic fatigue and weakness;
- Fainting and dizzy spells;
- Breathlessness and heart palpitations;
- Trouble sleeping and difficulty concentrating;
- A strange ringing sound in the ears, (tinnitus);
- The lining of the mouth and eyelids which are normally red appear to be a dull pink or even white;
- A rapid heartbeat.
It is essentially important for pregnant women to have their iron levels checked regularly and if the levels are found to be low, an obstetrician will prescribe an iron supplement in addition to the prenatal supplements. Besides the obvious clinical symptoms of anaemia such as the pale complexion and fatigue, the obstetrician will carry out blood tests early in the pregnancy and the tests will be repeated in the second half of pregnancy.
Apart from the anaemic mother feeling run-down and lethargic during pregnancy, anaemia can result in reduced amniotic fluid, low birth weight, prematurity, stillbirth and even in spontaneous abortion.
Foods are a very effective method of boosting iron levels and as such reducing the risk of anaemia, and the recommended foods include:
- Lean red meats such as pork, beef and lamb are excellent sources of iron;
- Eggs and liver;
- Cashew nuts, chick peas and baked beans;
- Cereals which have been prepared with iron (the cereal box contains comprehensive nutritional information);
- Lentils and sunflower seeds;
- Dried fruit;
- Eat fruits and vegetables containing which contain vitamin C like strawberries, melons, oranges, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, and pears are important to help prevent iron deficiencies;
- Baked potatoes;
- Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale and broccoli.
When using non-meat foods, such as the dried fruit, lentils, fruits and seeds etc. to boost iron levels the body will not easily absorb the iron found in these foods, as it will with meat. The body’s absorption of iron can be increased with certain drinks, such as orange juice (rich in vitamin C). The tannin which is found in tea will, however, reduce the absorption of iron and because of this, tea should be avoided during the meal and for at least a half an hour after a meal has been eaten.
Besides iron deficiency anaemia, there are other types of anaemia and these include sickle cell anaemia and Thalassemia. These are both inherited conditions.
Sickle cell anaemia
With this type of anaemia, the body produces abnormal red blood cells. These irregular cells are shaped like sickles (half moon or crescent shape) and their odd shape prevents the cells from passing through the blood vessels and this results in blockages. Regular blood cells have a disc-like shape. Women who have sickle-cell anaemia will have pyelonephritis and bacteria present in their urine during pregnancy. Sickle cell anaemia is very easily detected and a simple blood test will confirm whether the mom is suffering from sickle cell anaemia. There are a number of methods used to treat this condition, including a blood transfusion as well as bone marrow or stem cell transplantation.
The blockage which is caused by the irregular sickle cells or the abnormal blood cells will result in a decreased level of oxygen in the blood supply and this can have grave consequences for both the mother, as well as for the developing foetus. Pregnant moms with sickle cell anaemia run a high risk of developing gallstones, cystitis, urinary tract infections and often suffer from heart problems. For baby, the decreased oxygen may result in a low birth weight, prematurity, and the lack of oxygen in the flood can lead to a delay of foetal development. Mothers with sickle-cell anaemia are also at a high risk of suffering from a miscarriage.
This is a moderately rare form of anaemia and with this condition, the body produces irregular haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the protein that is found in the red blood cells which carries oxygen. The abnormal haemoglobin destroys the red blood cells and this leads to anaemia. Thalassemia is a hereditary disease and occurs commonly in people who are of a Southeast Asian or a North African and Caribbean descent. If this condition is not treated during pregnancy, Thalassemia can result in stillbirth and miscarriages. Babies who are born with this uncommon, hereditary disease will develop chronic anaemia within the first year of life.