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Anaemia during pregnancy

anaemia; anemia; pregnancy; iron; deficiency; folate; vitamin; b12; ;

Your blood and pregnancy

The main role of red blood cells is to carry oxygen from your heart to the rest of your body – your brain, your muscles, your skin, your kidneys and all else.

When you are pregnant, you also need to carry blood to your unborn baby, and this is why many changes occur in your body (see below) to allow this to happen.

Women make more blood when they become pregnant. Red blood cells contain a protein known as haemoglobin, which is vital for carrying oxygen. The average woman will have about five litres of blood when not pregnant, but will have seven to eight litres of blood in her body as she gets near term.

Anaemia in pregnancy

During pregnancy, some women become anaemic, which means they have too few red blood cells in their body. If a pregnant woman becomes anaemic, it will make her even more tired than expected. 

Several times during your pregnancy, you will have blood tests to find out whether you are anaemic, as well as whether you have other health concerns, and your doctor or midwife will tell you what to do if you are anaemic.

Preventing and managing anaemia in pregnancy is important for both you and your baby.  Anaemia not only makes you feel more tired and breathless, it also increases the likelihood of you needing a blood transfusion after your baby is born.  It may also increase the risk of your baby being born early or at a low birth weight, and of your baby being anaemic after birth.

What causes anaemia in pregnancy?

Iron, vitamin B12 and folate are needed to produce the haemoglobin in red blood cells.  With making extra blood in pregnancy, the body needs increased supplies of these to keep up.   

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia in pregnancy.  Your iron requirements are three times higher in pregnancy than when you are menstruating, and your iron needs increase throughout the pregnancy.

Ways to avoid becoming iron deficient during pregnancy

There are ways that can help you avoid iron deficiency while pregnant. They are:

  • start your pregnancy in good health
  • eat well while pregnant
    • Good sources of iron include lean red meat, followed by pork, chicken and fish.
    • Some plants have iron in them too, like wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes and green leafy vegetables.
    • Your body can absorb the iron in animal foods better than the iron in plant foods.
    • To help your body absorb the iron in plant foods, eat them with foods high in vitamin C, like oranges, tomatoes and capsicum. For example have some fresh fruit when you have your wholegrain breakfast cereal.

If you have iron deficiency anaemia, simply improving your diet alone will not give you enough iron, and iron supplements will be needed.

  • Continue to eat well
  • Take iron supplements as recommended by your health care provider
  • Talk to your health care provider if you have any issues with taking iron, they will be able to give you helpful tips and tricks to manage any symptoms.

More information

For more information have a look at these topics on our website

And there is also information on the Pregnancy, birth and baby website. Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is a national Australian Government service providing support and information for expecting parents and parents of children, from birth to 5 years of age.

This information sheet developed for SA Health (South Australian Department of Health) provides helpful information on taking iron tablets


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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see your doctor or midwife.


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