Māmā of four highlights the importance of iron intake for women 

By Jessica Tyson

Low iron levels are common in women, not only during pregnancy but also among all women with demanding lifestyles.

As a mother of four, Toi Tangata kaiwhakahaere rautaki Renei Ngawati understands the challenges of trying to meet the nutritional requirements of not only her children but herself as well.

"It is common for wahine to put their own needs last and then feel that we are not able to achieve simple daily tasks. Low iron intake can be a big contributor to feeling tired and unmotivated,"  Ngawati says.

She says feeding and caring for babies takes a lot of energy and iron is needed to give mothers the energy to function and feel well and happy.

“If we look at māmā, we need a lot of energy while we are hapu to give birth, to breastfeed, to look after our babies mentally, emotionally, as well as ourselves. And the more babies we have, the more that’s stretched.”

Ngawati says it’s really important for mothers to get rest, exercise, water and nutrient-rich kai.

“It’s really important to push here that the tiaki māmā component of that is really important. That’s where the whānau come in to ensure she’s nourished to be able to give to her pēpi.”

Ngawati says the consequences of having really low iron are anaemia and iron deficiency.

“If we don’t have the oxygen going around our body, then we can get things like baby brain, brain fog. They’re real things.”

World Iron Awareness Week

As part of World Iron Awareness Week this week Toi Tangata is encouraging awareness, education and action when it comes to the world's most prevalent nutrient deficiency.

Toi Tangata chief executive Megan Tunks says despite the serious consequences and high prevalence of iron deficiency, it is still an under-recognised issue.

"If we look at the genealogy or whakapapa of iron, we can trace it all the way back to Papatuanuku, our Earth Mother. Right from the beginning of creation through to today, iron continues to play a vital role in our existence and day-to-day ability to function optimally. It needs to be a priority. Māmā mā have the power to ensure they and their whanau are getting the iron they need."

Tunks says there are lots of tips and tricks to get more iron-rich kai into the diet.

“We encourage eating kai connected to Atua, especially kai listed under Tāne and Tangaro, but also Haumia and Rongo. It is equally important to eat a variety of kai, combining kai of the Atua, to increase the absorption and benefits of the iron in your kai."

Examples of iron-rich kai of the Atua include green-lipped kūtai or tinned salmon under Tangaroa, lean beef steak or lamb leg steak under Tāne, watercress or pūha (boiled or fresh in a smoothie) under Haumia, and beans or chickpeas under Rongo. To aid iron absorption, include kai high in vitamin C to meals such as tomatoes, oranges, kiwifruit or capsicums.