What is Anaemia?

This is a condition where there are fewer red blood cells in the blood, and /or that they have less haemoglobin present in them. As a result, the ability of the blood to carry oxygen around the body is reduced.

Are there different types of anaemia?

There are several different types, but the most common one in otherwise healthy pregnant women is iron deficiency anaemia. If you are anaemic for another reason, this will be discussed with you at your antenatal appointments.

What causes iron-deficiency anaemia? 

It is often related to inadequate intake or absorption of iron rich food and /or protein from the diet. It could also be that iron stores were already low before pregnancy, due to diet and lifestyle choices, heavy periods, or previous pregnancies. It can be more common if you are expecting more than one baby, or if you have had severe morning sickness [hyperemesis]. However, the condition is also common in pregnancy simply because there is an increase in the volume of blood circulating around the body. The volume of plasma increases more than the red cell mass, making the blood more diluted.

How will I know if I am anaemic?

Your midwife will take a detailed medical, social and obstetric history from you at the booking appointment to see if there are any factors which will make you more likely to be anaemic. You will also have a blood test at different stages of pregnancy to check you for this. You will see the abbreviation Hbwritten in your maternity notes to show what your haemoglobin level is and your midwife will tell you if it is too low. If you think you might be anaemic between these blood tests, you should see your GP or midwife.

What are the symptoms?

You might be anaemic if you feel unusually tired, or look very pale, particularly if the mucous membranes inside your mouth or under your eye doesn't look as pink as usual. However, some of the symptoms of anaemia, [e.g. Tiredness, feeling dizzy, getting breathless on exertion], are also common in pregnant women who are not anaemic, which is why it is important to see your midwife regularly and have your blood tested at the appropriate stages of pregnancy.

How is it treated?

Your midwife can advise you on how to increase the amount of iron you absorb from your diet, and may suggest iron supplements in tablet or liquid form if necessary. [These supplements may make your faeces turn black, but this is nothing to worry about, and doesn't mean that you are not absorbing the iron].

If you are severely anaemic and not responding to the usual supplements, you may need a series of intravenous infusions of liquid iron. This is carried out in hospital, but is very quick and you can usually go home again within an hour or so. Very rarely, some women do need a blood transfusion. If this is the case, you will need to be admitted to hospital where your condition can be monitored very carefully.