The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute states that approximately half of all women develop iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy. Pregnant women are at an increased risk because pregnancy places greater iron demands on the mother. During pregnancy, iron intake must double to meet the mother's needs while supporting the growing fetus. Dietary sources alone are typically inadequate at meeting this increased need, and supplementation with iron becomes essential.
Left untreated, low iron during pregnancy can lead to premature birth or low birth weight. Watching for symptoms of low iron, combined with routine blood testing during pregnancy, can help identify women at risk for anemia-related complications.
Common Symptoms of Low Iron During Pregnancy
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the most common symptoms of low iron during pregnancy include fatigue, shortness of breath, headache, cold hands and feet, dizziness upon standing, sexual dysfunction and pale gums and nail beds. Fatigue is often the first symptom to develop in pregnant women. It is caused by insufficient oxygen transport throughout the body due to reduced hemoglobin, which is the protein responsible for carrying oxygen through the bloodstream.
Less Common Symptoms
In some cases, especially when iron levels become severely low, additional symptoms of anemia may develop. These symptoms include nausea, forgetfulness, an inflamed tongue and heart palpitations. Tachycardia, or rapid heartbeat, may also develop, according to the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters. Prolonged anemia forces the heart to work harder to oxygenate the blood. Over time, this increased workload strains the heart muscle, causing arrhythmia, murmurs, heart enlargement and potentially death, according to the NHLBI. Abdominal pain and jaundice may rarely occur.
Pica, which is an abnormal craving to eat non-food items, may develop in pregnant women with low iron levels, according to the National Anemia Action Council. It is not understood why a deficiency of iron causes pica, but the rate of iron and other mineral deficiencies is considerably higher in those with the eating disorder. A desire to chew ice is the most common symptom of pica, but cravings for clay, paper, starch and other non-food items may also develop.