Expectant mothers need to take good care of themselves to help ensure a healthy outcome for both themselves and their babies. Taking prenatal vitamins and eating a balanced diet provides the nutrients to meet the body's increased demand during this time of physiological change and growth. When nutritional needs are not met, some women can develop anemia during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, a woman's body must produce a greater number of red blood cells. An increase in red blood cell production is needed to increase the volume of blood in the mother's body. They also carry oxygen to cells, which provides the basis for her baby's growth and development. The body uses iron to make red blood cells. If an expecting mother does not take in enough iron, she can develop anemia.
Prenatal vitamins typically provide an adequate amount of iron that pregnant women need to prevent anemia, but some conditions can put women at greater risk for developing anemia. Women who are pregnant with multiple babies or who become pregnant soon after having a baby need more iron. Women who don't consume enough iron-rich foods or have very heavy periods may also need extra iron. Left untreated, anemia can cause pre-term birth and/or low birth weight in newborns. For an expectant mother, anemia can lengthen the post-partum recovery time.
While it is normal for a pregnant woman to feel tired sometimes, prolonged periods of fatigue may be a sign that she has anemia. Other symptoms include pale skin and nails, dizziness, shortness of breath, and a rapid heartbeat. A blood test can determine if a woman's hemoglobin and/or hematocrit count is too low, indicating that her body is not producing enough red blood cells. The doctor may prescribe an iron supplement or provide nutritional advice for eating more iron-rich foods.
Foods high in iron include red meats, poultry, greens, broccoli, tofu, oatmeal and dried beans. Fish and shellfish are also good sources of iron, but pregnant women must be mindful of the mercury content in seafood. Choose safer types such as shrimp, salmon and cod. Enriched foods such as pasta, bread and cereals are also good source of iron. Citrus fruits and juices help the body absorb iron, so it can be beneficial to pair them with iron-rich foods or to take an iron supplement with orange juice. Calcium can hinder the absorption of iron, so avoid combining an iron supplement or iron-rich foods with milk, antacids or calcium supplements.
For more information, expectant mothers should look for pregnancy help in their area.