Objective: to assess the effect of low haemoglobin (Hb) on the mental and physical health of postnatal women. Design: survey conducted between May 1991 and February 1992. Setting: maternity unit in district general hospital in the UK. Participants: 1010 postnatal women who had delivered a live baby, did not stay in hospital for seven or more days postnatally, whose baby was not admitted to the neonatal unit and who did not have a current psychiatric disorder. Measurements: Hb levels at 'booking', 34 weeks gestation, three days and six weeks post delivery; the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and a self-completion questionnaire at ten days, four weeks and six weeks post delivery. Findings: women with a low Hb are more likely to be under 25 years of age, primiparous, be anaemic at 34 weeks gestation, not to have had a normal delivery, have had a blood loss greater than 250 ml and to have had heavy lochia postnatally. Low Hb levels were not associated with high EPDS scores. Low Hb levels were related to reports of low energy, breathlessness, faintness/dizziness, painful perineal sutures and tingling in fingers and toes at ten days post delivery. Whilst tiredness persisted to six weeks post delivery the other symptoms disappeared. Implications for practice: in order to reduce the incidence of postnatal anaemia a review of policies for testing is recommended so that the incidence of physical problems in the first six weeks can be reduced. There is a need for further research into the causes and potential alleviation of tiredness. © 1994 Longman Group Ltd.
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