Have you been diagnosed with iron deficiency recently?
Are you breastfeeding and concerned iron deficiency can cause low milk supply?
Women who are breastfeeding are more likely to have low iron after birth.
This due to depletion during pregnancy and childbirth.
Can lron Deficiency Cause Low Milk Supply?
After birth, vaginal bleeding for six weeks can also leave new mothers lower in iron.
This is a vulnerable time as you establish breastfeeding and your milk supply settles.
It’s common for there to be a few challenges along the way as you and your baby become skilled at breastfeeding.
Worrying about iron deficiency affecting your milk supply the last thing you need to worry about.
What Is Iron Deficiency?
Iron is essential for making red blood cells, which provide oxygen to all the cells in your body, including those responsible for making breast milk. If your iron levels drop too low, it can impact on your body and your milk supply.
An iron deficiency means your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce healthy red blood cells. Iron deficiency can occur naturally due to increased blood volume during pregnancy. However, there is also a greater demand for iron during pregnancy, from both the growing baby and the placenta.
During birth, it’s also common to lose some blood which further reduces available iron. This leads to abnormally low levels of red blood cells or haemoglobin. This means your blood isn’t able to carry as much oxygen to your muscles and tissues.
When you are breastfeeding, your body’s demand for iron increases to keep up with your baby’s needs. If you can’t meet this demand, it may lead to a decrease in milk production. The good news is, increasing your iron intake and correcting the deficiency can help boost your supply again.
Symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling cold
If low iron levels aren’t corrected, this can lead to anaemia.
Iron deficiency anemia is a much more severe form of iron deficiency.
You can be mildly, moderately or severely iron deficient. Iron deficiency anaemia is a more severe form of iron deficiency. This can also be mild, moderate or severe.
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia in pregnancy.
You can read more in Anaemia During Pregnancy | Causes, Symptoms and Treatment.
Iron-deficiency anaemia during pregnancy occurs in around 20% of women in developed countries.
So, can iron-deficiency anaemia be a problem for milk supply?
How Iron Deficiency Impacts Your Breast Milk Supply
Low iron can zap your milk supply, as iron carries oxygen in your blood, so when your levels drop, your body prioritizes getting oxygen to your vital organs first. That means less blood flow to your breasts, slowing milk production. Fixing an iron deficiency is pretty straightforward.
First, eat more iron-rich foods like red meat, poultry, fish, beans, and fortified cereals. Pair them with vitamin C which helps absorption.
You can also ask your doctor about iron supplements. Look for supplements containing ferrous sulfate, gluconate or fumarate and take them with orange juice. But don’t overdo it-too much iron can be harmful. Boosting your iron will boost your milk in no time and increase your energy and mood which will make you a happier mama too.
Iron Deficiency Anaemia May Impact Milk Supply
It is currently not clear whether iron deficiency anaemia may affect milk supply, we are aware that it may impair your body’s ability to produce milk. Increase your iron intake. Focus on eating more red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, and iron-fortified cereals and grains. You should aim for 3-4 servings per day.
However, the small amount of observational evidence available for us to look at and the small studies suggest anaemia may be responsible for low milk supply and the cessation of breastfeeding. There is a link between low iron and immune function, which can impact breastfeeding.
Low iron can increase the risk of infection.
For a breastfeeding mother this can mean blocked milk ducts, thrush, racked nipples and mastitis. All of these issues can affect how well a baby can remove milk from the breast. Breastfeeding works on a demand-supply basis. If a mother has cracked nipples and mastitis, she may find breastfeeding very painful. This can shorten the duration she will nurse her baby. Less milk is removed over time, which can affect her supply.
Over time, this will impact her baby. Low milk supply causes the baby to seem fussy and hungry all the time. Mothers may start topping up with formula or weaning from the breast completely.
Limit dairy and caffeine which can inhibit iron absorption. Cut back on coffee, tea and dairy products around mealtimes.
Pregnancy Iron Screening
Pregnancy is a crucial time to monitor your iron levels. Low iron during pregnancy can lead to fatigue, irritability and increased risk of complications. It may also affect your breast milk supply after delivery.
Iron tests can be done if you’re at risk for low iron during pregnancy. It’s not a routine pregnancy blood test and you will need to discuss this with your care provider, checking your iron levels could be done at your first prenatal visit, usually around 8 weeks.
Keeping iron in the normal range is important for you and baby. Speak up if you feel excessively tired or experience symptoms of iron deficiency like restless legs, pale skin or shortness of breath. Your doctor may suggest that you take iron supplements or switch you to a prescription strength formula.
Many prenatal supplements contain iron in them. These can cause digestive issues, including constipation. The best way to avoid iron deficiency in pregnancy is to ensure you’re getting adequate sources in your diet. This includes red meat, dark leafy vegetables, beans and lentils, cashews and pumpkin seeds.
include a food rich in vitamin C at the same time to ensure better uptake of iron.
Postpartum Haemorrhage And Milk Supply
Postpartum hemorrhage PPH), or severe blood loss after giving birth, is a major cause of iron deficiency in new mothers. Losing a lot of blood means losing a lot of iron, and if your iron stores were already low during pregnancy, hemorrhage could tip the balance into a risk category. A PPH could result in a drop in haemoglobin levels and possibly a full-blown iron deficiency anemia.
Anemia, even mild anemia, can significantly impact your milk supply. Your body needs adequate iron to produce prolactin, the hormone responsible for breast milk production. Without enough iron, prolactin levels drop, signaling your body to make less breast milk. Getting treatment for anemia, usually iron supplements, can help boost your prolactin and increase milk supply quickly.
A PPH has been associated with problems establishing breastfeeding including a delay in milk coming in.
Don’t beat yourself up over your struggling milk supply, it’s often due to things outside of your control. The good news is, now that you know low iron could be one of the culprits, you can take action. If you feel iron deficiency may be a problem for you, be sure to see your medical adviser.
This way it can be rectified before any possible problems arise from it. Focus on eating more iron-rich foods like red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, and fortified cereals. Give your body time to build back up the iron stores, continue breastfeeding as much as possible, and stay patient through the process. In a month or two, you’ll likely notice your supply increasing and your energy levels rising. You’ve got this, mama. A few small changes can make a big difference in ensuring you and your baby get enough iron to thrive.