Pregnancy anaemia and an anti-vegetarian dad
Weeks 25-30 of pregnancy are when haemoglobin concentration in the blood is at its lowest, so it’s also the time when pregnant women are most likely to develop some level of iron deficiency. This is very common and, unless your anaemia is severe, as long as it’s detected, treated and monitored, it’s unlikely to cause problems for your baby. This is because your clever body makes sure he gets enough iron and why you might become anaemic.
Here, one mother shares her story of surprise at being diagnosed with pregnancy anaemia
The unsuspecting anaemic
The weird thing is that I spent just over a decade as a vegetarian, a period during which I took plenty of criticism from my meat-loving family who would routinely ask me why humans had molars if they were “meant” to be vegetarian. Most persistent of all was the iron deficiency scare talk with my dad using every family gathering as an opportunity to tell me that I probably had anaemia.
The truth though was that I had bloods taken regularly and I never once showed even the slightest sign of being iron deficient while being vegetarian – it seems that all those greens did their job nicely – and it was not until three years after I started eating meat again that I was diagnosed with anaemia. One small caveat though: I was 28 weeks pregnant. Oh, and one much larger caveat: I suffered morning sickness so severe that I’m sure I must have been within a whisker of being diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum.
Really, with pregnancy and morning sickness at play it should hardly be considered surprising that so many mothers-to-be develop anaemia. Not only do we have to contend with our little growing critters leaching off all our goodness, including iron, we also have to deal with a 50% increase in blood volume, which means that the red blood cells in our bodies become heavily diluted. And then add morning sickness into the mix, making it practically impossible to keep many foods down for more than a few minutes, and you begin to see why pregnancy is a “perfect storm” for iron deficiency.
What I learned
Given just how difficult I found the first trimester, looking back on it I probably should have suspected that I was iron deficient: even after the morning sickness subsided for some weeks I was experiencing feelings of breathlessness, light headedness and episodes of dizziness, which, rather ignorantly, I just wrote off as a normal, although unpleasant, general pregnancy symptom. So I guess the first thing I learned was that I should have listened better to my body. If I’d done this I would have gone to the doctor earlier, had a blood test earlier and been on an iron supplement earlier – although I have my doubts about whether my morning sickness gag reflex would have allowed the pill free passage down my oesophagus
The other important thing I learned, in a way, harks back to my vegetarian days. I guess that because I was eating meat a couple of times a week both throughout the first half of my pregnancy and the months leading up to it I figured that my iron levels would be fine.
Partly due to this meat eater’s complacency and partly due to pregnancy food aversions I have to be honest with myself and admit that I neglected to consume as many leafy, green, iron-rich vegetables as I know to be good for me; I believe that ultimately I may have paid a price for this. On reflection I would definitely have showed more keenness for kale and maybe upped my meat consumption by a meal a week – just to be safe.
But who knows, perhaps I would have developed pregnancy anaemia anyway. I’m just glad that the NHS was able to test me, diagnose me and prescribe me supplements.
I was lucky. Severe pregnancy anaemia can be serious. It can result in extreme tiredness, infections, angina, low birth weight, urinary tract infections and even fetal anaemia. Fortunately, the supplements did their job in raising my iron levels, even if they caused me nausea, constipation and black poo (when it did finally happen).
As for my dad? Well, he has his own theory about why I developed pregnancy anaemia. “I always knew that vegetarianism would catch up with you one day,” he said.
I wonder what he’s going to say when he hears that his three-year-old grandson has told me that he doesn’t want to eat any more animals, “not even really horrid pigs”.