Iron Deficiency Anemia During Pregnancy: Care Instructions

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Iron deficiency anemia means that you don't have enough iron in your blood. Without enough iron, your body can't make the red blood cells that carry oxygen to the tissues in your body. You need even more iron when you are pregnant.

Low iron can cause problems when you give birth. And your risk for problems after you have the baby may rise. Severe anemia is rare. But if you get it, you may be more likely to have your baby early (preterm birth). Or your baby may have a low birth weight.

You may not know your iron is low because you may not have obvious symptoms. But you may feel weak and sick. Or your skin may look more pale than usual.

The food you eat may not give you as much iron as you need. Iron pills can help. Your doctor may advise you to take them.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor recommends a prenatal vitamin or iron supplement, take it as directed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your supplements.
  • If your doctor tells you to take iron pills:
    • Try to take the pills on an empty stomach about 1 hour before or 2 hours after meals. But you may need to take iron with food to avoid an upset stomach.
    • Do not take antacids or drink milk or caffeine drinks (such as coffee, tea, or cola) at the same time or within 2 hours of the time that you take your iron. They can keep your body from absorbing the iron well.
    • Be sure to drink plenty of fluids. And include fruits, vegetables, and fiber in your diet each day. This may help with stomach problems caused by iron pills. Problems include heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and cramps.
    • Do not stop taking iron pills without talking to your doctor first. It will take several months for your body to build up a store of iron. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your iron pills.
    • If you miss a pill, do not take a double dose of iron.
    • Keep iron pills out of the reach of small children. An overdose of iron can be very dangerous.
  • Eat foods rich in iron. These include red meat, poultry, eggs, beans, raisins, whole-grain bread, fortified cereals, and leafy green vegetables.
  • Talk to your doctor about any cravings for ice or nonfood items such as dirt, ashes, clay, or chalk. These cravings can be a sign of iron deficiency anemia.
  • Vitamin C may help your body absorb iron. Some people take their iron pills with a glass of orange juice or some other food high in vitamin C.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are short of breath.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You feel weaker or more tired than usual.
  • You have nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, or heartburn.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.