Anaemia in Pregnancy

Patient Experience

  • Reference Number: HEY-382/2023
  • Departments: Maternity Services
  • Last Updated: 1 March 2023


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about your condition.  Most of your questions should be answered by this leaflet.  It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and your doctor, but may act as a starting point for discussion.  If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team.

What is anaemia in pregnancy?

During pregnancy the body’s demand for iron is greater. It is needed in pregnancy for your baby’s growth and brain development.

Your recent blood test has shown you are anaemic. This is caused by a reduction of red blood cells which help to transport oxygen around the body.

To produce red blood cells, the body needs iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid. If there is a lack of one or more of these, anaemia will develop. The most common type of anaemia is iron-deficiency anaemia.

Causes of anaemia in pregnancy

It is common for women to develop iron deficiency during pregnancy, because the demand for iron and other vitamins is increased. The mother must increase her production of red blood cells and, in addition, the baby needs its own supply of iron, which can only be obtained from the mother. It is normal for the levels to drop a little in pregnancy because there is far more fluid in your blood to dilute the red blood cells. This is normal for pregnancy.

Other causes of anaemia may include:

  • A diet low in iron
  • Pregnancies close together
  • Carrying twins or triplets

Treating anaemia in pregnancy

Following discussion with your midwife or doctor they may advise the following treatment. Iron supplements are available in tablets or in a liquid form. If you have been prescribed iron supplements, it is important to take them and to finish the course. You will then be offered a blood test to check the iron supplement has been beneficial. If you fail to respond to iron supplements intravenous iron may be considered, however there can be risks with this. These will be explained to you if you require this type of treatment.

Iron supplements can often cause constipation or diarrhoea and some women are unable to take them. Iron supplements are better absorbed if taken an hour before meals however, side effects on the gut, such as abdominal discomfort, constipation, diarrhoea and nausea can occur. Some of these symptoms may be resolved by taking the iron with or after food. Please talk to your doctor or midwife about this.

You should contact the Antenatal Clinic, Community Midwifery team or GP if you are experiencing any of the side effects described within this leaflet, or if you are not tolerating the supplements.

How can I avoid anaemia whilst I am pregnant?

You should look to eat the following:

Iron-rich foods include:

  • Dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress and curly kale
  • Iron-fortified cereals or bread
  • Brown rice
  • Pulses and beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • White and red meat
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Eggs (these must be well cooked during pregnancy)
  • Dried fruit, such as dried apricots, prunes and raisins.

Your daily diet should include foods from all the major food groups to ensure it’s healthy and balanced. It is important to be aware that food and drink containing vitamin C are important as vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.

The following are a good source of vitamin C:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Fresh fruit juice
  • Broccoli
  • Potatoes

However, consuming large amounts of some foods and drinks, as well as certain medicines, may make it harder for your body to absorb iron.

These include:

  • Tea and coffee, it is suggested that you avoid these drinks at mealtimes.
  • Calcium – found in dairy products, such as milk.
  • Antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – medications used to relieve indigestion.
  • Wholegrain cereals – although whole grains are a good source of iron themselves, they contain phytic acid, which can stop your body absorbing iron from other foods and pills.

General advice

The following websites are available and you may find some useful hints and tops on how to become healthier and more active:

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please do not hesitate to contact: Antenatal Clinic (01482) 382623 Community Midwives (01482) 382658/382742

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