Iron Deficiency Anemia – Know Your Basics

A study conducted by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS – 3) in 2005-06 estimated that around 55% of Indian women are anemic.  Out of the women who suffer anemia, around 65-75% of them suffer from iron deficiency anemia (IDA), due to the lack of consumption of iron-rich foods.

Why does iron deficiency anemia occur during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, the mother requires additional iron to form hemoglobin for the growing baby and the placenta. Plus, the body prepares itself for the additional blood loss that occurs during delivery. Hence the normal iron requirements for a woman shoot up from 17-18.9 milligrams to 26-28 milligrams during pregnancy.

What are the factors that make you anemic during pregnancy?

  •  Low in iron and Vitamin C (helps in iron absorption).
  • Consuming dairy products (milk, coffee, tea etc) or soy products which reduce iron absorption from the gut.
Medical conditions:
  •  Stomach or intestinal infection impairs the absorption of iron through the intestinal walls.
  • History of by-pass surgery, which also affects iron absorption.
  • Short duration between pregnancies.
  • Conceiving at <20 years.
  • Increased blood loss in the second/third delivery.

Certain drugs impair the absorption of nutrients and minerals. Medication should be taken only after the doctor’s consent.


So, what are the symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia?

If anemia is mild, no/ fewer symptoms are observed. At times, the only symptom observed is tiredness and pregnant women generally miss out on this symptom as fatigue/tiredness is normal during pregnancy.

Apart from fatigue/tiredness, the other symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • A headache & dizziness
  • Paleness of skin
  • Palpitations & Chest pain
  • Reduced concentration & Irritability
  • Restless leg syndrome & leg cramps
  • Pica (craving nonfood items, like chalk and pencil lead)
  • Pale inner eyelids, lips  & oral cavity with cracks in corner of the mouth
  • Glossy tongue
  • Spoon-shaped nails

How is IDA measured?

A complete blood count  (CBC) is done, which helps in measuring:

  • Hematocrit (Hct): The percentage of RBC’s (red blood cells) in the bloodstream
  • Hemoglobin (Hb/Hgb): The amount of hemoglobin (iron-carrying complex protein) in those RBC’s

As per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Centers for Disease Control (USA), anemia (in particular IDA) in pregnancy is diagnosed when:

First trimester:

    • Hct < 33 % and  Hgb < 11 grams g/dl


    Second trimester:

    • Hct < 32 % and  Hgb < 10.5 grams g/dl

Third trimester:

    • Hct < 33 % and  Hgb < 11 grams g/dl

These are few of the basic facts of IDA. It should be known that it can occur at any point during your pregnancy. So, eat right, take your supplements on time and keep tracking your progress at Savika.



Dr. Aishwarya Rajeev has completed her MDS degree and is currently pursuing her PhD. She is an avid reader and loves to teach and write!

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