Anemia in Pregnancy



The most common cause is low iron levels. Iron is a mineral found in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of the RBC that carries oxygen. The body needs more iron during pregnancy. Anemia happens when these needs are not met.

Other causes are:

  • Low amounts of folic acid or vitamin B12
  • Loss of blood because of injury, a bleeding ulcer, or bleeding hemorrhoids
  • Problems in the genes causing:
  • Less hemoglobin to be made or
  • Hemoglobin that does not work as it should

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Having anemia before pregnancy
  • Very heavy bleeding during periods before pregnancy
  • Morning sickness with frequent vomiting
  • Pregnancies that are close together
  • Being pregnant with more than one baby
  • Eating foods low in iron
  • Problems with hemoglobin—more common in those of African, Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, or West Indian descent



Some people may not have symptoms. Those who do may have:

  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Pale skin in the palms of the hands, lips, nails, and eyelids
  • Fast heartbeats
  • Problems breathing
  • Dry hair or hair loss
  • Dry skin or nails
  • A sore, red tongue
  • Cravings for non-food items such as clay, ice, and paper


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam may be done. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.

Blood tests be done to look at:

  • Hematocrit level—the number of RBCs in the blood compared to total amount of blood
  • Hemoglobin level—the amount of hemoglobin in the blood

Other testing of the blood will help look for a cause.



The treatment for anemia will depend on the cause. This may include:

  • Dietary changes—Eating iron-rich foods such as meat, poultry, fish, or dark green vegetables.
  • Iron pills—To help raise iron levels in the blood
  • Folic acid and vitamin B12 pills—If these are causing anemia.


The risk of this problem may be lowered by getting regular prenatal care and:

  • Taking a prenatal vitamin with iron
  • Eating foods that are high in iron, such as meats and leafy green vegetables
  • Eating foods with folic acid, such as enriched grains and leafy green vegetables

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.