Postpartum Anemia: The Must Know Symptoms of The Silent Illness

Becoming a new mom, and the days that follow will be one of the most challenging, and most rewarding, experiences a woman will ever face.

For me, thinking about ourselves, and our body’s recovery postpartum is one of the furthest things from our mind when we finally get to take our new bundle of joy home from the hospital.

It is important to remember that we cannot take care of our new baby if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, and there is one postpartum condition that women need to pay attention to. Especially in the first few days after birth—Postpartum anemia.

Although this condition affects nearly 27% of women postpartum, it is one of the least talked about illnesses affecting new moms because the side effects are oftentimes attributed to being a new mom.

What Is Postpartum Anemia?

After delivery, women can experience a chronic iron deficiency called anemia. This illness is when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells or, is destroying the red blood cells.

Your obstetrician probably checked your iron and haemoglobin levels during all your routine blood work to check for signs of anemia.

Haemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen through your blood cells from your lungs to the rest of your body. When your bloodstream is not sufficient in iron or haemoglobin, you will begin to suffer the adverse side effects of anemia.

There are 3 stages of iron deficiency anemia.

The first stage is when your blood iron levels begin to drop causing the iron in your bone marrow to be depleted. When you enter this stage of anemia, you won’t even know it because, unfortunately, there are no signs or symptoms.

The second stage is the deficiency stage that can be found through blood testing. This is where your haemoglobin production levels start to become affected. You may begin to feel the side effects of anemia during this stage such as feeling more tired than usual or having more frequent headaches.

The third stage occurs when your haemoglobin production has lowered to the point where anemia has fully developed. By this point, your personality may have seemed to changed and you may be feeling sick and exhausted.

Causes Of Anemia After Pregnancy

Postpartum Anemia is a common occurrence in women. There are several factors that contribute to anemia and it can be hard to pinpoint the specific cause for each woman.

The most obvious is the blood loss that is experienced during pregnancy, which usually corrects itself after a few days, but for some, postpartum anemia can be a chronic ailment that can have other causes.

For most women that suffer from postpartum anemia for longer than a few days after birth, a combination of the below causes is the culprit.

Poor Diet

Did you know that you need 1 mg of iron per day? Did you know that while menstruating you need an extra 2mg a day?

Postpartum anemia can be hard to manage because, although we get enough iron in our normal daily diet, adding in that extra when our postpartum bleeding can last for weeks can be very difficult.

Impaired Iron Absorption

Some women already have a hard time absorbing iron due to intestinal diseases such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or Crones.

The diseases, combined with the difficulty in maintaining a good diet right after a new baby is born, can lead to postpartum anemia.

Postpartum Anemia Symptoms

The signs of postpartum anemia may look like the signs of having a newborn baby and you may not realize that something is wrong right away.

If your new baby is anything like mine, and most other new mom’s, you won’t be getting much sleep in the first few weeks, so recognizing the signs of postpartum anemia will be difficult.

Make sure to talk to your doctor if you ever feel overwhelmed or if any of the below signs and symptoms of postpartum anemia are becoming unmanageable for you, it may mean you have an iron deficiency!

  • Feeling overly tired and fatigued
  • Reduced breastmilk quantity and quality
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Dizziness or lightheaded
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Feeling confused
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Pale skin
  • Decreased immune function

Although you may not experience all of these symptoms, if you feel as though any of these are occurring in a way that is not manageable for you, or is disrupting your daily routine, make sure to consult with your doctor.

postpartum anemia

Risk Associated With Postpartum Anemia

You may be asking yourself, what’s the big deal with being anemic?

Many adults feel as though being a little tired is just a part of growing up and being an adult.

Some of the symptoms associated with anemia have become so accepted as a part of the modern, socialized culture, that we may not even recognize that we may be ill.

Anemia can be a potentially serious illness that needs to be treated by a medical professional for several reasons.

When your body is not producing enough red blood cells, your body is not getting enough oxygen, and the carbon dioxide that your body produces is not able to be carried to your lungs to be exhaled.

This can cause fatigue so extreme that you cannot complete everyday tasks and may have trouble staying away and alert.

If you are not treated for anemia and become pregnant again, you are at a greater risk for premature birth and pregnancy complications.

Anemia can lead to an irregular heartbeat, enlarged heart and even heart failure because of the extra work that the heart must do to pump more oxygen through the body.

Accidental death can occur with anemia due to some of the more severe side effects such as dizziness and extreme fatigue.

Women With Increased Risk

If you fall into any of the below categories, statistically you will be at a greater risk of developing anemia:

  • Iron-deficient before/during pregnancy
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Low income
  • Short recovery time between pregnancies
  • Caesarean section
  • Pre-pregnancy BMI over 24%
  • Having Placenta Previa
  • Hypertension
  • Bleeding during pregnancy
  • Premature or post-term delivery
  • Abnormal or high level of blood loss during pregnancy
  • Multiple births

Anemia And Breastfeeding

Because Anemia leads to decreased immune function, this can cause some issues for women who are breastfeeding.

If you have your heart set on breastfeeding, this may seem very discouraging, but rest assured that many of the issues that anemic women face while breastfeeding are issues that could be faced in moms with normal iron levels as well.

Some of the most common issues include clogged milk ducts, thrush, nipples that take longer to heal, mastitis, and low quality and quantity of milk.

These things will all have an impact on your baby including a possibly erratic feeding schedule, a baby that may be harder to console and feel full and satisfied, or troubles with sleeping.

Do not worry!

These things are common and with the help of a lactation consultant and your support system, you can work through them!

There is a very, very low chance of your baby becoming anemic due to your anemia, however, after 6 months, your baby’s pediatrician may start him or her on an iron supplement.

Treating Postpartum Anemia

Luckily, postpartum anemia is very easy to treat with vitamin supplements and diet.

If you continue taking your prenatal vitamins after your baby is born, your risk of postpartum anemia is significantly lowered.

You can also pick up an iron supplement at any of your local drug stores or pharmacies for very little cost to you.

However, iron supplements should only be used at the direction of your doctor as there are complications associated with taking iron such as constipation, stomach cramping, and headaches.

illness postpartum

The constipation is the number one adverse side effect for women that have just given birth as you cannot strain when having bowel movements, especially if you had to have an episiotomy.

The best thing you can do for your body post-baby is to follow a healthy diet.

No woman bounces back immediately after having a baby, but eating a healthy, iron-rich diet will not only combat postpartum anemia but leave us feeling healthier and happier overall.

You have to remember to take care of yourself if you want to take quality care of your precious new child and the food you eat, especially if you are breastfeeding, is a major part of that promise to yourself.

Here are some foods that you should make sure to incorporate into your diet:

  • Leafy Greens such as spinach
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Cereal
  • Pumpkin
  • Apricots
  • Egg noodles
  • Potato
  • Tofu
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Oysters
  • Squash
  • Peas
  • Iron-fortified bread
  • Brown Rice
  • Asparagus
  • Strawberries

There are also foods that can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb iron.

If you have any gastrointestinal diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohn’s, or Celiac, these foods are probably already regulated out of your diet.

Take care to minimize the amount of caffeine and calcium-rich foods you consume.

Final Word

If you find yourself struggling with postpartum anemia make sure that you keep a journal of the following:

  • Foods you are eating,
  • Any symptoms you are feeling

This will allow you to have an accurate record that you can discuss with your healthcare professional. This will help identify an appropriate treatment to effectively manage your symptoms.

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