Twenty percent of pregnant women in industrialized countries experience iron deficiency, according to a report from the University of Maryland Medical Center. The reason is pretty simple: Pregnancy causes a 50% increase in blood, diluting the concentration of red blood cells in our bodies.
Other factors, such as hyperemesis gravidarum (that's me!), closely spaced pregnancies (me again!), and age may contribute to the risk for anemia. "Certain age groupsadolescent girls and women over 35are more prone to anemia prior to and during pregnancy due to low iron stores, poor dietary intake, and increased demands," say Debora Dole, CNM, MSN, assistant professor of clinical nursing at the University of Cincinnati.
To make matters worse, I have the inability to swallow pills during pregnancy. Just days after I had the positive pregnancy test for my first daughter, constant vomiting kicked in, and I developed a very sensitive gag reflex (unfortunately, the damage seems permanent). The giant bottle of massive prenatal vitamins I purchased was wasted, as I was only able to choke down two of the pills total. The taste of the alternative "prenatal powders" was much too strong and horrible to consider.
When I sheepishly confessed to my doctor that I couldn't take the vitamins anymore, he pulled out his garbage can. "Go ahead and put those pills right in here. With your diet, you don't need them."
I attempted to treat my iron deficiency solely through nutrition, eating steaks, sunflower seeds, prunes, and molasses, in combination with iron absorption enhancers, such as oranges or grapefruit juice.
But iron is poorly absorbed through the gut, and my diet did absolutely no good. The anemia emerged in my second trimester.
As a result of my refusing to supplement with iron pills, I was sicker every week of that pregnancy. I also lost a lot of blood during my daughter's delivery and became critically anemic, had extremely low blood pressure, and came close to needing a transfusion.
The anemia reared its ugly head again during my second pregnancy. I experienced dizzy spells, and I saw stars every time I leaned down to pick up my two-year-old. "Start taking iron pills," the nurse told me. I decided to listen.
So whenever I started to feel lightheaded, sometimes every other day, I'd take a slim, tasteless iron supplement (called Slow Fe, or ferrous sulfate), and the feeling would gradually subside.
But now that I'm pregnant with my third daughter, I finally understand that I can't wait for the symptoms of anemia to hit me before I take Slow Fe. My dilemma is simple: Take a daily 95 mg dose or risk losing my momentum as a mother of two.
Keeping my anemia under control isn't just for me, either. It can have harmful effects on a child, too. Although the UMMC reports that mild to moderate cases pose few risks, the dangers of pregnancy anemia include increased risks of: urinary tract infections, preterm labor, fatigue, intrauterine growth restriction, and, in severe cases, fetal anemia and hemorrhage.
So if you'll excuse me, I've got a date with a little white pill.