Anemia is a condition that develops when your blood produces a lower amount of healthy red blood cells. This, in turn, causes the body not to get enough oxygen-rich blood which can cause someone to feel tired or weak, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, and in some cases, an irregular heartbeat.
In pregnancy, anemia is a hemoglobin level of less than 11g/dl. From there, it is classified into mild, moderate, and severe. To diagnose anemia, a blood test called a Complete Blood Count is given to test Hemoglobin levels and Hematocrit levels.
There are multiple types of anemia, but iron-deficiency anemia is the one that most commonly pops up in pregnancy. Therefore, when an individual is on their period or pregnant, they are at a higher risk for anemia. In most cases, individuals can supplement iron and B12 to regain their iron stores and treat their anemia. Still, in some cases, medicines and iron infusions are necessary.
During pregnancy, anemia is typically checked for at the beginning and again at the end of the second or the beginning of the third trimester. Sometimes testing will need to happen a few more times if anemia stays present despite supplementation and diet change. The reason that anemia is screened for during pregnancy is because of how it can impact childbirth.
Birthing individuals who are anemic when they go into labor are at a higher risk for postpartum hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia, placental abruption, and cardiac failure. Gestational carriers with anemia are twice as likely to have preterm labor and three times as likely to deliver a baby with low birth weight. Being anemic at the time of birth is also shown to be associated with higher cesarean rates. An anemic gestational carrier can also lead to an iron-deficient newborn. If a newborn is iron deficient, it can delay growth and development and cause behavioral abnormalities. At its worst, anemia can lead to a higher rate of parental death during and after childbirth.
In the postpartum period, anemia can cause impaired thinking and fatigue in the parent, negatively impacting bonding after birth. It can also cause poor healing and infection while recovering. Lastly, it can lead to pregnancy and postpartum mood disorders.
Anemia can happen to anyone, but some specific individuals have higher risk factors. If you have any risk factors, getting a Complete Blood Count panel (CBC) is an especially good idea and ensures you are not anemic. Risk factors include:
- Pregnancy with multiples
- Two pregnancies close together
- Excessive vomiting because of morning sickness
- Are a teenager
- Don’t eat many iron-rich foods
- Had anemia before pregnancy
- Have a history of anemia during pregnancy
Because of the negative impacts anemia has on birthing individuals and newborns, it is essential to know the warning signs of anemia. Some of these symptoms are:
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating
- Constantly feeling cold
- Shortness of breath
- Craving or chewing ice
- Rapid heartbeat
- Trouble sleeping
- Dry or easily bruised skin
- Pale or yellowish skin
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, bringing them up with your care provider and asking about running a CBC is a good idea. Anemia is a severe condition that severely impacts pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. You are the expert on your body. Never hesitate to bring concerns and questions regarding anemia to your care provider.