Meeting your postpartum iron requirements is important to replenish the iron stores that you lost while giving birth, along with the iron you passed on to baby (1). However, due to the pause in menstruation, your postpartum iron requirements decrease significantly (2). Although it is not as common, it is still important to prevent iron deficiency postpartum (3). Read on to learn more about meeting your postpartum iron requirements.
The Role of Iron
Iron is an essential mineral that assists in many body functions (4). It is responsible for carrying oxygen to all parts of our bodies, assist with cell function, and helps to support normal brain and nerve development for babies (1, 2).
Meeting Your Postpartum Iron Requirements
Iron needs change depending on your stage of the life cycle.
Preconception: 18 mg/day
Postpartum: < 18 years old: 10 mg/ day 19 – 50 years old: 9 mg/ day
As mentioned, your postpartum iron requirements decrease due to the absence of menstruation. It is important however to prevent iron deficiency while pregnant in order to prevent deficiencies from occurring postpartum. Having low iron stores during pregnancy is a strong predictor of postpartum iron deficiency, especially when there is significant blood loss during child birth (3). Postpartum iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, altered cognition, and depression symptoms (3). These symptoms may affect the relationship between mom and baby and negatively impact baby’s behaviour and development (3). Restoring iron stores is especially important for those who get pregnant within 18 months of their last pregnancy, as deficiencies can lead to adverse outcomes for mom and baby (3).
Iron-rich food sources
In order to meet your postpartum iron requirements, it is important to consume iron-rich food sources. There are two types of iron found in food: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is more bioavailable – meaning we are able to absorb it more easily (4).
Heme iron is found in animal products such as meat, seafood, and poultry (4).
Examples of Heme Iron Food Sources (1):
- Beef (75g): 1.5 – 3.0 mg
- Shrimp (75g): 2.0 mg
- Chicken (75g): 1.0 mg
Non-heme iron is found in plant-based foods such as tofu, legumes, enriched grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables (4).
Examples of Non-Heme Iron Food Sources (1):
- Legumes (175 mL): 2.0 – 6.5 mg
- Tofu (150g): 2.0 – 7.0 mg
- Iron enriched pasta (125ml): 1.0-1.5mg
If you don’t feel that you are meeting your iron requirements with food sources alone, consult a Registered Dietitian to discuss the possibility of adding an iron supplement to your diet.
Increasing Iron Absorption
Vitamin C can help to increase absorption of non-heme iron (4). In contrast, calcium can inhibit iron absorption. It is important to keep iron and calcium sources separate to optimize your absorption (3).
Examples of adding vitamin C to non-heme iron food sources include (4):
- Have orange juice or grapefruit juice with iron-fortified breakfast cereals
- Add tomato sauce to pasta
- Add strawberries to your oatmeal
- Squeeze lemon juice on your spinach salad
The Bottom Line
Meeting your postpartum iron requirement of 9 mg/ day is important, as it allows you to replenish your lost iron stores and prevent future deficiencies. Focus on eating both heme and non-heme iron sources with vitamin C to boost your absorption.
- Government of Canada. Prenatal nutrition guidelines for health professionals – iron contributes to a healthy pregnancy [Internet]. Ottawa: Government of Canada: 2009 [cited 2020 Oct 27] 10 p. Available from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/food-nutrition/prenatal-nutrition-guidelines-health-professionals-iron-contributes-healthy-pregnancy-2009.html
- Government of Canada. Dietary reference intake [Internet]. Ottawa: Government of Canada: 2006 [cited 2020 Oct 27] 3 p. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/dietary-reference-intakes/tables/reference-values-elements-dietary-reference-intakes-tables-2005.html
- World Health Organization. Guideline: Iron Supplementation in Postpartum Women. Geneva: 2016. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK379977/
- UnlockFood [Internet]. Canada: Dietitians of Canada; c2020 [updated 2019 Feb 20; cited 2020 Oct 27]. What you need to know about iron; [about 3 screens]. Available from: https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-You-Need-To-Know-About-Iron.aspx
~ Written by Hailey Belaire