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Feeling tired? Low iron levels postpartum could be affecting you.

As a new mum, we often assume that any symptom that we experience must be a normal part of the post-partum ride. Whether it be joint pain, appetite changes, skin issues, or hair loss- we tend to brush these things off and hope that they clear up when we finish breastfeeding.

One thing that nothing can prepare you for before becoming a mum- is the fatigue. This one is a given right?! But how much of that fatigue can be attributed to your sleepless nights or taking care of your baby- and how much of it could be a red flag for an underlying issue?

Iron deficiency /anaemia is common among women all across the world. Low iron levels can lead to serious health issues and can increase the risk of postpartum depression. It’s not surprising that during pregnancy our requirements for iron almost double- but the targets given for breastfeeding women are not necessarily accurate for every breastfeeding mum. The recommended iron intake for breastfeeding women is set at one third of that recommended for pregnant women. A level at which for many women, is far too low to replete nutrient supplies to a safe and healthy level.

RDI’s for women in NZ:

Not pregnant: 18mg/day

Pregnant: 27mg/day

Breastfeeding: 9mg/day

The rationale behind these low iron targets includes the assumption that breastfeeding women will not be menstruating and therefore are avoiding the usual iron losses during a monthly cycle. We also lose some iron through our breast milk- but this is around half of that typically lost during menstruation.

This iron recommendation doesn’t account for women who have completely depleted iron levels during pregnancy or suffered significant blood loss at delivery, or the blood lost through normal postpartum bleeding that most women experience for around 6 weeks post-birth. When we think about these factors on top of how our levels were during pregnancy- it’s easy to see how quickly our bodies can become deficient in iron.

Iron deficiency can affect a new mums quality of life. Some of the symptoms that you might experience if suffering from postpartum iron deficiency/ anaemia include:

  • Fatigue

  • Unusually rapid heart beat

  • Pale skin

  • Cramping in legs

  • Insomnia

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Cold hands and feet

  • Depression

  • Thyroid dysfunction

So what should we do?

If you haven’t had an iron test during your postpartum recovery but think that you might be deficient, then ask your GP to order a blood test for you. If you decide not to get tested- rebuilding nutrient stores post-birth is something that you still need to prioritise. It ensures that your body has the nutrients that it needs to function optimally, and that you feel your best as you continue on your journey as a mum.

How can I get enough iron?

  • Lean red meat is the best source of easily-absorbed haem iron, so try to include it 3-4 times per week at any meals throughout the day. Chicken, pork and fish are also good sources of easy to absorb iron, so eat a variety of these to increase your iron intake.

  • If you don’t eat meat and fish, try to include foods that are rich in non-haem iron such as tofu, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and cooked beans and lentils. Non-haem iron is harder for the body to absorb so just be aware that restoring iron levels on a vegetarian diet can be more difficult and potentially require supplementation.

  • To increase the absorption of iron- eat vitamin C rich foods at meal times. E.g. kiwifruit, citrus fruits, capsicum, melon, berries, spinach.

  • Tea contains tannins which reduce the amount of iron absorbed by the body. Wait at least 30-60mins after eating before drinking tea.

Take care of your body and remember that you are important to prioritise too. Being a mum is the most rewarding job in the world, and although some days are harder than others- our postpartum experience is certainly more difficult when we aren’t feeling our best. When your body is nourished and functioning optimally- the benefits that you experience in your sleep, mood, and energy levels can make your postpartum journey even better.

If you would like support with ensuring that you are fuelling your body effectively pre, during, or post pregnancy then sign up for our nutrient analysis service. It's the most accurate way to check whether or not you are providing your body with everything that it needs at any stage of your journey, and can be a pivotal tool in ensuring the best outcomes for you and your baby.


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