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I have iron-deficiency anemia. Can I still have a normal birth?
That depends on how severe your anemia is, and if it's being managed well.
Mild anemia is unlikely to affect your pregnancy or your chance of having a normal birth. If your healthcare provider advises you to take iron supplements, and you take them as prescribed, your condition should improve. It's possible that by the time you give birth, anemia may disappear completely.
Having anemia in pregnancy becomes a problem when it's severe and lasts a long time. (A hemoglobin level of 6 grams per deciliter or less is considered severe anemia.)
If you have severe anemia, discuss your birth options in advance with your healthcare provider. You may want to see a specialist.
Women with severe anemia are at greater risk of having a baby prematurely and also tolerate blood loss during delivery more poorly. Blood loss during delivery may mean needing a transfusion.
But as long as your healthcare provider is aware of your anemia, you'll be monitored carefully throughout your pregnancy.
Am I more likely to have a preterm birth?
It's difficult to know for sure, but some research suggests that even mild untreated anemia can put a woman at risk for preterm birth.
However, problems are more likely to occur with severe anemia: During the first two trimesters, severe anemia is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth. There's also the possibility that a baby may be born at a low birth weight.
If a baby is born prematurely or has a low birth weight, she may need to spend some time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Due to her small size or weight (and not necessarily because of her mother's anemia), a baby likely won't have as much iron stored in her body as a larger or full-term infant. She may need to be given iron drops to replenish her iron stores.
Will I need extra care during my labor and delivery?
If your anemia is identified and treated, it's unlikely you'll have complications during labor and delivery. And if your provider knows you have anemia, she'll monitor you closely and give you extra care if necessary.
But being anemic can sap your energy, and the increased fatigue can lead to having less stamina than usual. You also might experience dizziness, a rapid heart rate, or shortness of breath, which could make labor more difficult.
If anemia is untreated and severe, your provider may consider your condition a high-risk pregnancy and refer you to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.
Visit the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's website for more information and to find an MFM specialist near you.