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The Role of Iron: An Essential Nutrient for Postpartum Health

mother breastfeeding newborn

The iron deficiency problem

During pregnancy, the body's iron requirements increase significantly, leading to further depletion of iron stores. As a result, many new mothers begin their postpartum journey with already compromised iron levels.

Studies have shown that a staggering 80% of women enter pregnancy already deficient in iron (Oh Baby Nutrition, 2023). According to another study, it’s been found that 49% of women were considered anemic in the third trimester of pregnancy and were also anemic postpartum.

Additionally, replenishing iron stores is increasingly important for those who experienced postpartum hemorrhage or had a cesarean birth. And when menstruation begins, the combined demands of milk production and menstruation could further deplete iron stores.

 

Replenishing iron stores in postpartum

The postpartum period is a critical time for women to replenish their iron stores. Adequate iron levels are essential for various bodily functions, and it becomes even more crucial during this time of recovery and transition. By focusing on nourishing the body with iron-rich foods and supplements, postpartum mothers can give themselves the best chance of a healthy and smooth recovery.

Benefits of iron in postpartum health

1. Combat fatigue: The postpartum period is notorious for causing extreme fatigue and exhaustion due to the physical and emotional demands of childbirth and caring for a newborn. Iron plays a central role in the production of hemoglobin, a protein responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. Sufficient iron levels ensure an adequate supply of oxygen to the cells, combating fatigue and promoting overall well-being.

2. Supports energy levels: Iron is a key component of energy metabolism. It helps convert nutrients from food into energy, which is essential for new mothers as they navigate the challenges of postpartum life. With optimal iron levels, women can experience improved energy levels, making it easier to cope with the demands of motherhood.

3. Reduces risk of anemia: Anemia, a condition characterized by low levels of red blood cells or hemoglobin, is a common concern during the postpartum period. Anemic mothers may experience weakness, dizziness, and a compromised immune system. Adequate iron intake can significantly reduce the risk of anemia, ensuring mothers stay healthy and strong during this crucial time.

4. Enhances mental clarity: The postpartum period can be emotionally overwhelming, and many new mothers may experience "mom brain" or a lack of mental clarity. Iron is essential for proper brain function and cognitive health. By ensuring sufficient iron intake, new mothers can enhance mental clarity, focus, and overall cognitive performance.

Food sources of iron-rich foods

When it comes to  increasing iron stores, food sources of iron are much better  absorbed (and preferred) than iron supplements. Iron supplements typically contain poor-quality synthetic ingredients that can contribute to constipation and digestive issues.

To support iron intake during the postpartum period, consider incorporating these iron-rich foods into your diet:

●     Heme iron (animal sources) 25-40% absorbability

 - Grass-fed liver

- Sardines

- Oysters

- Red meat, such as beef and lamb

- Chicken and turkey

- Fish and shellfish

 

●     Non-heme iron (plant sources) 2-13% absorbability

 - Beans and lentils

- Quinoa

- Tofu and soy products

- Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale

- Nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds and cashews

If incorporating these food sources regularly into your diet seems challenging, The Mothers Blend by ‘Foraged for You’ is a food-based product that contains a blend of carefully selected, real and fermented foods that are naturally rich in iron. It is my recommendation for a lot of the postpartum mothers I speak to (myself included), and words from my clients are that it helps them “feel well”, “energised”, “less fatigued” and “less groggy”.

The Mothers Blend has been developed specifically with pregnant and breastfeeding women in mind, however, it is a food that can be incorporated into any individual's diet whether you are a pregnant woman, a mother, breastfeeding, or not. 

In summary…

Iron is a superhero nutrient that every postpartum mother needs to prioritize for a smooth recovery and overall well-being. Combatting fatigue, supporting energy levels, reducing the risk of anemia, and enhancing mental clarity are just a few of the essential benefits of iron in postpartum health. By focusing on iron-rich foods and considering supplements when necessary, new mothers can ensure they have the strength and vitality needed to embrace the joys and challenges of motherhood with confidence. Remember, a healthy mother means a healthy baby and a happier postpartum journey!

Fiona Agius
Holistic Nutrition Consultant
@mothernurtured_

The information provided in this blog is for your personal or other non-commercial, educational purposes. It should not be considered as medical or professional advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking or omitting to take any action based on this blog. While the author uses best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises and assumes no liability regarding the accuracy, reliability, or completeness of the information presented. The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this blog are for general information only and any reliance on the information provided in this blog is done at your own risk. Any third-party materials or content of any third-party site referenced in this blog/article/handout do not necessarily reflect the author’s opinion, standards, or policies and the author does not assume any liability for them whatsoever.


 

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