Anemia from iron deficiency is common in lactating women, especially following anemia in pregnancy, explains the MOBI Motherhood International website. Blood loss during labor and insufficient diet are just two possible causes of anemia. Women who suspect they are suffering from anemia should consult with a health care professional immediately as this condition can have a negative impact on breast-feeding and the baby.
Leading Up to Anemia
Anemia doesn't start suddenly. It is the last stage of iron deficiency. Before a diagnosis of anemia a mother will likely experience diminished energy, reduced physical performance and in turn, a greater risk of post-partum depression. These are all symptoms that can easily be mistakenly attributed to general post-partum conditions.
The reduction in immune function from anemia can cause various issues in a breast-feeding mother, including clogged milk ducts, mastitis, thrush and slow-healing nipple sores, according to MOBI Motherhood International. All of these issues can negatively impact the quality and volume of breast milk.
Effect on Baby
Any negative impact to the breasts, such as any of the issues causing diminished quality or volume of the milk, will cause side effects in the baby. Regardless of the direct impact of the illnesses, like mastitis or thrush, the insufficient milk can cause a baby to be more fussy and seemingly hungry all the time. Once the illness subsides, the baby is likely to remain difficult to console and on an erratic feeding pattern. Only in extreme cases will a baby develop anemia as a result of the mother's anemia. There is much debate about how long after birth a baby's iron stores begin to diminish, but generally the consensus is that after 6 months of age, a baby needs an iron supplement. An argument against iron supplementation is that the baby will not become anemic because the breast milk takes what the baby needs, leaving only the mother deficient.
Iron is more readily absorbed by the body when it comes from food sources. Foods high in iron include fortified cereals, beef liver, dried fruits, leafy green vegetables, beans and lentils. It is also helpful to consume a food or beverage high vitamin C prior to or following eating a food containing iron to promote optimum absorption.
Continuing prenatal vitamins during breast-feeding can help prevent anemia and it may increase iron levels somewhat when anemia occurs but this vitamin won't elevate the mother's iron stores enough to remedy the situation. Increasing iron from food sources with the prenatal vitamin may be sufficient but it may take more time to have the desired effect than taking an iron supplement directly.
Iron supplements should only be taken under the advice of a health care professional. There can be negative side effects, such as constipation, with an iron supplement. It is very easy to overdose on iron as well. Never take an over-the-counter iron supplement without first discussing proper dosage and length of treatment with a health care professional.