Anemia in Pregnancy: Impact on Maternal and Fetal Health and it’s Management

Anemia in Pregnancy: Impact on Maternal and Fetal Health and it’s Management


Anemia in pregnancy is defined as a hemoglobin concentration below the normal range for a particular stage of gestation. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines anemia in pregnancy as a hemoglobin level less than 11.0 g/dL in the first and third trimesters and less than 10.5 g/dL in the second trimester.

Types of Anemia in Pregnancy

  1. Iron-deficiency anemia: This is the most prevalent type of anemia in pregnancy. It occurs when the body lacks sufficient iron to produce an adequate amount of hemoglobin.
  2. Folate-deficiency anemia: Inadequate intake or absorption of folate can lead to this type of anemia. Folate is crucial for the production of red blood cells.
  3. Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia: Insufficient intake or absorption of vitamin B12 can result in this type of anemia. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the formation of healthy red blood cells.

Causes and Risk Factors

  1. Inadequate iron intake: A diet lacking in iron-rich foods can lead to iron-deficiency anemia.
  2. Increased iron requirements: Pregnancy demands an increased supply of iron to support the growing fetus and placenta.
  3. Poor absorption: Certain medical conditions or surgeries can affect the body’s ability to absorb iron, leading to anemia.
  4. Multiple pregnancies: Women carrying multiple fetuses have a higher risk of developing anemia due to increased blood volume requirements.
  5. Short interpregnancy intervals: Getting pregnant again soon after a previous pregnancy increases the risk of anemia.

Signs and Symptoms

  1. Fatigue and weakness: Women with anemia may feel excessively tired, weak, or lethargic.
  2. Pale skin and mucous membranes: The lack of red blood cells can result in paleness, especially in the face, lips, and inner eyelids.
  3. Shortness of breath: Anemia can lead to reduced oxygen-carrying capacity, causing breathlessness, particularly with physical exertion.
  4. Rapid or irregular heartbeat: The heart compensates for the reduced oxygen supply by pumping blood faster, resulting in an increased heart rate.

Investigations and Pathological Findings

  1. Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC measures the levels of red blood cells, hemoglobin, and other components in the blood.
  2. Serum ferritin level: Ferritin is a protein that stores iron. A low serum ferritin level indicates iron deficiency.
  3. Peripheral blood smear: This test examines a sample of blood under a microscope to assess the shape, size, and appearance of red blood cells.

Management of Anemia in Pregnancy

The management of anemia in pregnancy primarily focuses on correcting the underlying cause and improving the mother’s hemoglobin levels. Treatment options include:

  1. Early Detection and Diagnosis: Early detection and diagnosis of anemia during pregnancy are vital for timely intervention. Regular prenatal check-ups and screening tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), can help identify anemia at its early stages. For example, let’s consider Sarah, a pregnant woman who visits her healthcare provider for routine prenatal care. During her CBC, it is discovered that her hemoglobin level is below the normal range, indicating anemia. Early detection allows healthcare providers to initiate appropriate management strategies promptly.
  2. Nutritional Interventions: Proper nutrition plays a critical role in managing anemia during pregnancy. Healthcare providers often recommend dietary modifications and supplementation to address specific nutrient deficiencies. Iron supplementation is a common approach for managing iron-deficiency anemia in pregnancy. For instance, Jessica, a pregnant woman diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia, is advised to take iron supplements along with a diet rich in iron sources such as lean meat, leafy greens, and legumes. These interventions aim to replenish iron stores and improve hemoglobin levels.
  3. Education and Counseling: Education and counseling are essential components of managing anemia in pregnancy. Healthcare providers should educate pregnant women about the importance of a balanced diet, iron-rich foods, and appropriate iron supplementation. They should also provide information on potential side effects of supplements and how to manage them. Additionally, counseling sessions can address any concerns or misconceptions the expectant mother may have. For example, Maria, a pregnant woman with anemia, receives thorough education and counseling about her condition, enabling her to make informed decisions and adhere to the recommended management plan.
  4. Collaboration with a Registered Dietitian: Collaboration between healthcare providers and registered dietitians can significantly enhance the management of anemia in pregnancy. Registered dietitians possess expertise in nutrition and can develop personalized meal plans for pregnant women with anemia. They can assess dietary habits, identify nutrient gaps, and provide guidance on incorporating iron-rich foods into the daily diet. Collaborative efforts ensure that pregnant women receive comprehensive care tailored to their specific nutritional needs. For instance, Rachel, a pregnant woman with anemia, works closely with a registered dietitian who creates a customized meal plan emphasizing iron-rich foods and balanced nutrition.
  5. Monitoring and Follow-up: Regular monitoring and follow-up are crucial for evaluating the effectiveness of the management strategies and adjusting the treatment plan if necessary. Healthcare providers should conduct periodic blood tests to assess hemoglobin levels and monitor the progress of the anemia. Adjustments to iron supplementation or dietary recommendations can be made based on the individual’s response to treatment. Timely follow-up visits provide an opportunity to address any concerns and ensure ongoing management. For example, Emily, a pregnant woman with anemia, undergoes regular follow-up visits where her healthcare provider monitors her hemoglobin levels, reviews her dietary choices, and adjusts her iron supplementation as needed.

Managing anemia in pregnancy requires a multifaceted approach that includes early detection, appropriate nutritional interventions, education and counseling, collaboration with registered dietitians, and regular monitoring and follow-up. By implementing these strategies, healthcare providers can promote optimal maternal and fetal outcomes, ensuring a healthy pregnancy journey for expectant mothers. Effective management of anemia in pregnancy contributes to improved maternal well-being, reduced pregnancy complications, and enhanced fetal development.

Example: Let’s consider an example to illustrate anemia in pregnancy. Sarah, a 28-year-old woman in her second trimester, visits her obstetrician with complaints of fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath. Upon investigation, her hemoglobin level is found to be 10.3 g/dL, indicating anemia. Further evaluation reveals iron-deficiency anemia. Sarah is prescribed iron supplements and counseled about dietary changes, including incorporating iron-rich foods into her meals.

Impact on Maternal and Fetal Health

  1. Maternal Health Impact: Anemia in pregnancy can adversely affect the health and well-being of expectant mothers. Some key impacts include:

a. Fatigue and Weakness: Anemic pregnant women often experience excessive fatigue and weakness due to reduced oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood. This can affect their daily activities, work performance, and overall quality of life.

b. Increased Risk of Infections: Anemia weakens the immune system, making pregnant women more susceptible to infections such as urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and complications during childbirth.

c. Cardiovascular Strain: Anemia places additional strain on the cardiovascular system as the heart attempts to compensate for the decreased oxygen supply. This can result in an increased heart rate, palpitations, and shortness of breath.

d. Pregnancy Complications: Anemia during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of complications such as preterm birth, low birth weight, and preeclampsia. These conditions can have long-lasting effects on both the mother and the baby.

Example: Sarah, a pregnant woman diagnosed with severe anemia, experiences persistent fatigue, struggles to perform daily tasks, and becomes more prone to respiratory infections. The anemia contributes to her heightened risk of complications, including preterm birth and preeclampsia, necessitating close monitoring and management by her healthcare provider.

  1. Fetal Health Impact: Anemia in pregnancy can also impact the developing fetus, potentially leading to various complications:

a. Restricted Fetal Growth: Inadequate oxygen supply due to maternal anemia can impair fetal growth and development. This can result in a condition called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), where the baby fails to attain optimal weight and size for their gestational age.

b. Increased Risk of Preterm Birth: Anemic pregnant women are at a higher risk of delivering prematurely. Preterm birth can lead to numerous health challenges for the baby, including respiratory distress syndrome, developmental delays, and long-term disabilities.

c. Neurodevelopmental Deficits: Anemia during pregnancy has been associated with impaired neurodevelopment in infants. Insufficient oxygen supply to the developing brain can result in cognitive and behavioral difficulties later in life.

Example: Maria, a pregnant woman with untreated anemia, delivers a baby who is significantly smaller than average and is diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction. The infant requires intensive care due to preterm birth and faces potential developmental challenges due to the compromised oxygen supply during pregnancy.


Anemia in pregnancy has far-reaching consequences for both the mother and the developing fetus. It impacts maternal health by causing fatigue, increasing the risk of infections, straining the cardiovascular system, and contributing to pregnancy complications. Additionally, anemia poses risks to fetal health, including restricted growth, increased likelihood of preterm birth, and potential neurodevelopmental deficits. Timely detection, appropriate management, and preventive measures are essential to mitigate these risks and optimize the health outcomes for both mother and baby. Healthcare providers play a crucial role in diagnosing anemia, implementing suitable interventions, and closely monitoring pregnant women to ensure a healthy and successful pregnancy journey.

Author: Dr. Rabia
Dr Rabia Akhtar, MBBS(Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery), has perceived her graduation from India. Special Interest: Surgery, Chronic disease, Emergency Medicine, Paediatrics, Women's Health.
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