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I have iron-deficiency anemia. Do I need to see my healthcare provider before I get pregnant?
Yes. If you have iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) and are planning to get pregnant, visit your healthcare provider for a preconception checkup. A preconception checkup gives you the chance to discuss your condition and have a blood test to determine how severe your anemia is. (And if you're unsure about the type of anemia you have, your provider can go over your medical history to see if it might be caused by something other than iron deficiency.)
Seeing your provider before you get pregnant also ensures that your anemia is managed appropriately. In most cases, mild anemia doesn't pose a problem during pregnancy if it's caught and treated early. But if your anemia is severe, your provider may refer you to a specialist.
Why is iron important during pregnancy?
Iron is essential for making hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body to other cells. Iron requirements go up significantly when you're pregnant because extra iron is needed for the placenta and growing baby.
Your blood volume increases by about 50 percent during pregnancy – also increasing your need for iron. It's important that your healthcare provider knows you have anemia because it's possible you need more iron than the average pregnant woman.
What causes iron-deficiency anemia?
It's not unusual to develop anemia during pregnancy because of the need for more iron. But if you have anemia before you get pregnant, the most common reasons include:
- Having heavy periods
- Not eating enough iron-rich foods. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for American women ages 19 to 50 is 18 milligrams (mg) of iron a day – and about 33 mg daily if you're a vegetarian. The typical diet supplies approximately 15 mg of iron per day.
- Not eating enough foods that help your body absorb iron
- Eating too many foods that prevent the body from absorbing as much iron, such as dairy products and soy-based foods
- Drinking lots of coffee or tea
- Being unable to absorb iron properly. This could be due to taking certain medications, or having a condition that affects the body's ability to absorb nutrients, such as celiac disease or Crohn's disease.
- Previously losing a lot of blood when giving birth
- Having a very short gap between pregnancies. If you're planning to have another baby, wait at least 18 months before conceiving again.
Should I take a vitamin supplement?
Yes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all women take prenatal vitamins when trying to get pregnant, and women with IDA take supplemental iron in addition to their prenatal vitamin.
What else can I do to prepare for pregnancy?
- Try to eat plenty of iron-rich foods, such as beef, shrimp, beans, lentils, and enriched breakfast cereals.
- Eat iron-rich foods at the same time as foods that enhance iron absorption, like orange juice, strawberries, broccoli, and peppers.
- Try not to eat foods that prevent iron absorption at the same time you eat iron-rich foods. Key culprits are dairy products, soy products, coffee, and tea.
Visit the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's website for more information and to find an MFM specialist near you.