Signs & Symptoms of Iron Deficiency in Pregnancy

Tired pregnant woman working
A pregnant woman with a headache. (Image: PIKSEL/iStock/Getty Images)

During pregnancy, your body contains as much as 50 percent more blood than it did before you became pregnant. Your body needs extra iron to make the red blood cells necessary to furnish this additional blood. Iron is also necessary for the growth and development of your baby. When you lack the iron stores to make the extra blood, you develop anemia, or iron deficiency. Although your doctor usually tests your blood for anemia throughout your pregnancy, watching for signs of iron deficiency can help you receive prompt evaluation and treatment.

Weakness and Dizziness

These iron deficiency symptoms often go unnoticed because most pregnant women experience fatigue, weakness and dizziness at some pointâ??whether anemic or not. Because the signs of anemia are so subtle, the American Academy of Family Physicians suggests that pregnant women proactively take a daily vitamin supplement with at least 30 mg of extra iron to help guard against anemia.

Paleness

You might notice that your skin appears whiter than before, especially your fingernails, eyelids and lips. People might comment that you appear â??washed outâ? and exhausted. The paleness happens because your blood vessels contain fewer red blood cells. Many women experience the pallor as one of the first, early signs of iron deficiency.

Shortness of Breath

This symptom develops as the anemia progresses, leading you to end up winded when walking up stairs or exercising. Because shortness of breath also masks itself as a normal pregnancy symptom, it usually not a reliable sign of iron deficiency.

Headaches and Difficulty Concentrating

As your body struggles to keep you supplied with iron-rich blood, you might begin to experience frequent headaches, irritability and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms might make it difficult for your to concentrate at work or school, occasionally leading to a decline in your performance.

Heart and Circulation Irregularities

Anemia can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat and chest pains. The WomensHealth.gov website notes that these symptoms occur because your heart needs to work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. You might also notice numbness or tingling in your hands and feet because of poor blood circulation in these areas.

Strange Food Cravings

The Babycenter Medical Advisory Board states that studies discovered a link between iron-deficiency anemia and a condition known as pica. Pica involves cravings for non-food substances like clay, paper or paint. Refrain from eating any of these substances, and call your care provider if you notice any of these cravings. Although cravings and food aversions are a normal part of most womenâ??s pregnancies, pica can indicate an underlying psychological or physical problem.

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