How to Tell if You Have an Iron Deficiency (or You’re Just Tired)

Headaches.

Fatigue.

Dark circles.

Exhaustion.

Any of these sound familiar? If they do, don’t worry–you’re in the majority. These are all potential side-effects of being a new or expecting mother, but they’re also symptoms of an iron deficiency.

It’s the most common nutritional disorder in the world and affects about one in three women of reproductive age. And while it’s easily treated with dietary changes and supplements, diagnosing an iron deficiency can be tricky because of its innocuous symptoms.

So many of us go about our busy lives and grow accustomed to feeling a certain level of well..run down. And when you have a little one (or pregnancy insomnia) that means you aren’t getting your full eight hours, feeling fatigued isn’t necessarily something you’d be surprised by. So how can you tell if your lingering exhaustion is just that–or something more?

We’re going to break down some of the common warning signs of an iron deficiency, and help you distinguish them from normal mama fatigue.

1. Tiredness

This is a major telltale sign that your iron levels may be low–and unfortunately, it also happens to be a reality of busy life as a new mama. However, iron deficiency tiredness isn’t easily fixed by getting more sleep. If you’re iron deficient, you’ll feel tired because the lack of iron means your body isn’t making enough hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen around the body.

If you’re iron deficient, you may feel like you have a tiredness you can’t shake, and your body may feel weak. You might struggle to recover from your workouts and have trouble concentrating.

2. Headaches

Again…this warning sign can be easily chalked up to so many other things! However, the headaches caused by an iron deficiency may be accompanied by a feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness–as opposed to the throbbing feeling of a tension headache that you may have experienced before.

If you’re getting headaches regularly and feel lightheaded when you get up quickly, you may have an iron deficiency.

3. Dry skin and hair

As we move into the colder months, drier skin and hair are to be expected…but if your skin is particularly dry, flaky, and pale, you should take note. The lack of oxygen to hair and skin cause them to become dry and weak, which can make your hair feel brittle. In more serious cases, you may even experience hair loss–don’t ignore these warning signs.

4. Shortness of breath

Have you felt particularly out of breath lately? A lack of oxygen to your muscles can make you fatigue more quickly doing normal activities like walking or going up the stairs. Your body will try to compensate by increasing your breathing rate to get more oxygen to your cells.

If you’ve noticed that you’ve been more out of breath doing normal tasks lately, an iron deficiency may be to blame.

5. Paleness

Again, as we head into the winter months, paleness is to be expected. But if your complexion is looking particularly dull and pale, and your cheeks aren’t as rosy as they used to be, low iron may be the cause.

Try this quick test: gently pull down on your lower eyelid, and look at what color your inner eyelid is. If it’s white-ish, pale pink, or pale yellow, you may have an iron deficiency. In a normal person, it would be bright red. If yours looks pale, it’s worth taking note.


It can be so difficult to identify signs of an iron deficiency–and often in our busy lives, we don’t put the pieces together and recognize that something may be wrong. Iron deficiency is so common in women of reproductive age, and it’s very easily treated. If you identify with any of the symptoms we listed today, give your doctor a call and ask to have a blood test to check for iron deficiency anemia. We promise that if you do have a deficiency and you work to treat it, you’ll feel so much better!

Want to make sure you’re getting enough iron in your everyday meals? Check out some of our favorite iron-rich recipes here. And if you’re in the mood to learn a little more about this essential mineral from a fertility dietitian, you can read our post from Stefanie Valakas here.

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