Iron deficiency is more common during pregnancy. Your blood volume goes up by 50 percent, and your baby and placenta also need additional iron. What's more, the body often doesn't have the stores it would need to ensure adequate iron levels when you go into a pregnancy. All of this leads to higher odds of developing iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy. In fact, the risk of iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy is so great that up to half of all expectant mothers suffer from it!
Some women who develop anemia while they are expecting a baby do not notice any symptoms at all, or might think the signs they are feeling are actually just pregnancy symptoms. Others do experience clear anemia symptoms, and they are likely to include dizziness, a feeling of weakness, paler skin, constant fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath. The blood tests that are carried out as part of routine prenatal testing always look for iron deficiency anemia, and iron supplements can help bring your iron levels up quite rapidly. However, women who are trying to conceive are better off getting tested before they get pregnant, so they can treat their anemia before they have a baby's health to worry about. A maternal iron deficiency during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of preterm labor and delivery, stillbirth, and low birth weight babies. A new study also reveals that babies whose mothers took iron supplements during pregnancy were less likely to be autistic.
Wait... what? Yes, you read that right. Researchers from the University of California-Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, California, just revealed that adequate iron levels lower a baby's risk of developing autism, after already having found that folic acid supplements do the same! Rebecca J Schmidt is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences who worked on this fascinating new study. She said: "Iron deficiency, and its resultant anemia, is the most common nutrient deficiency, especially during pregnancy, affecting 40 percent to 50 percent of women and their infants." She added: "Iron is crucial to early brain development, contributing to neurotransmitter production, myelination and immune function. All three of these pathways have been associated with autism." A low iron intake is, the research team says, linked to a five-fold autism risk in children of mothers over age 35 or who have diabetes or hypertension during pregnancy. That's scary.
The moral of the story for women who are currently trying to conceive? You know this topic is just beginning to be researched and you will probably be hearing an awful lot more about it in the future. Even without the much higher risk of autism, iron deficiency anemia is just something you don't want during pregnancy or at any other time. Get tested for nutritional deficiencies, and take iron supplements while trying to conceive if you need to!