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Iron deficiency during pregnancy

Iron deficiency during pregnancy


Risk factors for anaemia during pregnancy

Iron deficiency (or lack of iron) can create a low haemoglobin (or low red blood cell count). This is usually referred to as 'anaemia'. Iron deficiency is very common in developing countries, especially in children and childbearing women. However, it is estimated that less than 10% of childbearing women are iron deficient in countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Signs of being iron deficient (whether pregnant or not) can include excessive tiredness, lethargy, lack of motivation and feeling irritable and weak than would normally be expected. You may also experience headaches or have a poor resistance to minor illnesses and possibly 'feel the cold' more. Fair skinned women will tend to look very pale, but women with dark skin need to look on the underside of their eyelids to notice whether the mucous lining looks pale, rather than more pink or red (this is a classic sign of anaemia for fair and dark skinned people).

An unusual side effect of iron deficiency can be 'pica'. This is a desire or 'craving' to eat non-food substances such as dirt, clay, ice or toothpaste. These do not contain iron, and in the case of clay or dirt, can actually inhibit the absorption of iron from normal foods.

Risk factors for anaemia during pregnancy

While pregnant women are at increased risk of becoming iron deficient, not all pregnant women become significantly anaemic and only a few will truly require iron supplements. Anaemia may be evident very early in the pregnancy, or something that does not become obvious until the last few months (after 28 weeks). Blood tests for iron levels and/or haemoglobin are routinely performed at the first pregnancy visit and once (or more) later in the pregnancy. This is discussed later in this section in blood tests for iron.

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