Remember when your OB-GYN or midwife called for you to have your iron levels tested during your pregnancy? Your fetus was incredibly demanding on your body, and because of those needs, your body was at risk for iron deficiency. You may have heard it is also called iron deficiency anemia. As the name suggests, iron-deficiency anemia is when you have insufficient Iron. It's the common cause of having too few healthy red blood cells in your body.
Even after pregnancy, your body may still have deficient iron storage (or lower than it should be). You should expect postpartum iron deficiency if you have heavy bleeding during delivery. The typical length for postpartum iron deficiency could last anywhere from six to 12 months after giving birth. If you experience heavy bleeding during delivery, consult with your doctor right away to check your Iron levels.
So how do you know you have low Iron (this might not be obvious)? What can you do to get more in your diet, and what can you do about poor iron absorption? Let's first talk about some of those warning signals.
What are the signs of postpartum iron deficiency?
Surprisingly, you may not even know you have iron deficiency. There aren’t always obvious indicators of Iron deficiency symptom-wise. Unless you’re regularly getting your Iron levels checked in bloodwork, you may not even know it was an issue at all.
What ARE some of the signs you should look for with iron deficiency?
- Fatigue that lasts more than a few weeks
- Being extremely irritable or having other mood issues
- Having persistent headaches
- Not being able to go to regular activities (low-energy overall)
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
While many of these could be your body recovering after delivery, check with your OB-GYN if the symptoms persist or have become intrusive to your life.
Getting your Iron levels checked as part of your regular postpartum checkups can help prevent iron deficiency anemia before it becomes a thing (a not great thing).
How do you get more Iron during postpartum?
After getting your Iron levels checked through bloodwork (and seeing it's low), you should chart how to get more Iron in your diet. This should be through a combination of supplements and foods high in Iron. Some popular foods high in Iron include:
- Red meat, pork, and poultry: contain heme Iron, which is easier for your body to absorb.
- Pinto beans contain non-haem Iron, which is harder to absorb.
- Lentils (non-haem Iron)
- Asparagus, Broccoli, Mustard Greens, Okta, and Kelp (non-haem Iron)
- Dried Peaches, Prune Juice, Plums, Pumpkin Seeds, and Raisins (non-haem Iron)
Adding a simple Iron supplement will help get Iron levels to adequate levels. Depending on your level of Iron absorption, both should be used together for optimal results.
How do you improve iron absorption?
The first obstacle to overcome in Iron absorption is figuring out what is interfering with your absorption. It sounds simple, but your body probably isn't telling you it's having those absorption problems! Surprisingly, how you consume Iron (or what you consume Iron with) can change how your body absorbs it.
Some great tips for absorption include:
Wash it down with orange juice: Orange juice alongside your Iron supplement can help with immediate absorption. Iron has two different forms: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron comes from animals, and non-heme comes from plants. Your body absorbs very little Iron on its own (15-35 percent from heme and 2-20 percent non-heme Iron). The rate can change depending on what other nutrients are taken with it. Adding Vitamin C while taking Iron (usually non-heme) will make the compound more absorbable.
That was a lot, but if you ingest non-heme Iron, such as a supplement, take it with a glass of orange juice (or any Vitamin C high-drink) to help with absorption.
Skip the milk: Unlike orange juice, dairy products can have the opposite effect on your absorption.
Also, skip tea and coffee with your meals: Both contain polyphenols, which make it harder for your body to absorb Iron. If you have heartburn and take an antacid drug, you will want to stop taking it (and maybe get rid of foods that give you heartburn).
Store your supplements in a cool place: Before lifting that Iron, make sure it's being properly stored. Warm (and humid) places can make some tablets disintegrate.
Ask your doctor about your current medications: If you're on any medications or supplements, ask your doctor if they may interfere with your Iron absorption.
Take heart. Compared to your pregnancy, your iron needs will usually decline during postpartum. Take this time to restore your lost Iron during pregnancy and delivery. Your normal (pre-pregnancy) iron levels should return by two months postpartum. If you did suffer from iron depletion during pregnancy, take this time to understand your iron intake with food and iron supplementation.