Delivery and Early Days
You’ve done it – you have grown a whole other person and been through the hardest trial of your life – bringing that person into the world.
The arrival of your baby can be an amazing, or traumatic, experience. You may be tempted to try and forget it, focussing on your beautiful new baby. But your body has not forgotten and may need some extra help to recover and be at your best. Even after a normal birth there is a chance you could have low iron levels and become anaemic, a condition known as iron deficiency anaemia.
After you have given birth, as your body returns to normal, the levels of iron you need changes. This may mean you are told you have iron deficiency even if your test result is higher than during your pregnancy. If you have any questions you should discuss them with your midwife or doctor.
Am I at Risk of Anaemia?
Having iron deficiency anaemia after giving birth is very common.1 Almost a quarter of women are anaemic one week after a normal delivery.2
If you had iron deficiency anaemia during your pregnancy you are likely to still have low iron levels after giving birth.2,3 Other things that may increase your chance of having iron deficiency anaemia after delivery include:
- If you have other children4
- If you had a caesarean section (either by choice or emergency)3
- If you had forceps or vacuum delivery3
- If you lost a lot of blood during labour or just after giving birth2
- If your baby was premature, or very late3
- If you had twins (or more!)2
- If you were overweight or obese before getting pregnant5
- If you are vegetarian or vegan6
What are the Signs?
If you think you may be at risk of iron deficiency you can learn more about the symptoms in our Symptom Browser, but it is important that you discuss this with your doctor or midwife.
Why is Iron Still Important?
Recovering from the birth and looking after a new-born baby is tough, no matter how wonderful they are. One thing that can be easily forgotten, especially in the early days/months, is the importance of looking after yourself.
To cope with the demands of a new-born baby your body needs all the help it can get – and that includes iron. Iron is important for your body throughout your life, but being anaemic or having low iron levels after the birth of your baby can have particular effects:
- Increase your chance of developing postnatal depression7
- Reduce your ability to fight infections2
- Cause feelings of stress and anxiety8
- Cause fatigue9 and exhaustion
- Cause insufficient milk syndrome10
- Reduce the quality of your milk11
Suffering from any of the above is draining, making it even harder to care for your baby.2 Having low iron levels may also have an effect on your emotional relationship with your baby.2
What Can I Do?
If you think you may be anaemic due to low iron levels the first thing to do is talk to your doctor or midwife and get your iron levels checked. Remember to mention any difficulties you had during the birth and the amount of blood you have lost since getting home. Blood loss is normal as the uterus shrinks, but keep an eye on how heavy the bleeding is and how long it goes on for. If you are feeling particularly distressed, exhausted or having problems looking after your baby don’t be afraid to say so.
The earlier iron deficiency is diagnosed, the earlier it can be treated. If you were given iron tablets during your pregnancy but found it hard to take them because of the side effects, remember to mention this to your doctor or midwife.
You can also increase the amount of iron in your diet. Your doctor or midwife will help you with this, but you can also learn more in our section on “Choosing your food wisely”.
Look after yourself and enjoy those precious moments with your new baby.