How to Cope With Postpartum Fatigue

tired mom holding newborn

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The rigors of labor and delivery can take a significant toll on your body. Plus add in the stress of caring for a newborn and the lack of sleep and it's not surprising that the majority of women experience fatigue and exhaustion during the postpartum period.

In fact, according to one study nearly 90% of women who gave birth vaginally reported feeling fatigued during the postpartum period. And some women—as many as 11%—continue to experience fatigue even into the third month postpartum.

While some amount of sleep deprivation and fatigue is normal for all new parents, that doesn't mean you have to suffer through it. There are things you can do to cope. Here is what you need to know about postpartum fatigue including remedies and when you should call a doctor.

Causes of Postpartum Fatigue

When it comes to postpartum fatigue, there are a number of things at play that lead to excessive tiredness and exhaustion. Aside from the demands placed on your body during labor and delivery, the lack of sleep you get caring for a newborn along with being on high alert during much of the time can all take its toll on you.

Plus, studies show that women reporting depression, anxiety, and sleep issues as well as those who are breastfeeding are at significant risk for extreme fatigue. Other factors impacting fatigue levels include the mother's age and the number of children she's caring for. Even the length of labor and perineal pain can contribute to postpartum fatigue.

Sometimes a medical issue is at the root of a woman's postpartum fatigue. If you suspect that your tiredness is related to more than just recovery and sleep deprivation, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor. Here are some other common causes of postpartum fatigue:

It's important to note that sometimes postpartum depression is at the root of a new mom's fatigue and tiredness. If you're feeling overwhelmed, having extended crying spells, feeling worthless, having intense mood swings, losing sleep, and feeling not at all like yourself, you should contact your doctor. They can help you determine what is causing your fatigue and help you start feeling better soon.

How to Fight Fatigue

When you feel fatigued, you also may feel weak, weary, sleepy, or dizzy. Exhaustion also can get in the way of successful breastfeeding and may make you feel like giving up on breastfeeding.

This excessive tiredness also can lead to a low breast milk supply and mastitis, a breast infection. It can even impact your stress levels, your relationships with others, your ability to function, and even your relationship with your baby. Consider these tips for fighting fatigue after giving birth.

Seek Rest and Comfort

You've probably been told to nap when the baby naps. Following this sage advice is one of the best things you can do for your body. So, try to take a nap when your baby naps and head to bed as early as possible in the evenings.

You also want to get as comfortable as you can when you're feeding your baby. Sit with your feet up, or breastfeed in the side-lying or laid-back nursing position. Use pillows or cushions to support your arms so you don't need to expend extra energy.

Remember, this fatigue you are feeling is temporary.

The newborn period doesn't last too long—although it doesn't feel that way when you are in the thick of it. As your baby gets older and begins to sleep for longer periods, you should be able to get more rest.  

Get Help

Enlist the aid of your partner, friends, and family to take on housework, laundry, cooking, and caring for older children. When someone says, "If you need anything, let me know," take them up on it. Give specifics: Could you use a home-cooked meal? Do you need more diapers? Could your friend start a load of laundry, or just hold the baby while you shower?

If you can afford it, consider hiring someone to help with the housework. Make it clear in advance that you have a newborn at home and need help with both tidying and deep cleaning. Don't feel like you need to pick up the house before the house cleaner arrives. Remember, that is what you are paying them to do.

Let the Housework Go

If you don't have a budget to hire help, let the housework go for a while. You don't need to scrub the shower, mop the floors, or run the vacuum. Those things can wait or you can enlist the help of your partner, a visiting family member, or older children.

You also can try lumping some minor household chores in with other things if you have the energy. In other words, try folding laundry while talking to your baby.

Or, when you use the restroom run a toilet bowl brush around the toilet. Try cleaning out the sink when you wash your hands or unloading the dishwasher while you're waiting on your food to warm in the microwave. By lumping things together you will be more inclined to nap when your baby naps rather than folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, or cleaning the toilet.

Also, try not to do any big household projects while you're recovering or put pressure on yourself to get a bunch of cleaning or home projects done. No one expects your home to be spotless after you've had a baby, so you shouldn't put those kinds of demands on yourself either.

Limit Visitors

Everyone wants to come to see the baby, but when you are exhausted with a newborn, you might not have the energy for entertaining. Friends and family who help out with the house or watch the baby while you nap are a treasure.

But say no to visitors who you will need to cook and care for in addition to everything else. It's absolutely acceptable to let out-of-town relatives know that you're not ready for visitors just yet. Let them know that you're exhausted and that they might enjoy a visit more in a month or so when you have recovered and the baby isn't sleeping all the time.

Prioritize Nutrition

Proper nutrition and hydration is essential when you're recovering from giving birth. Supplementation also may be warranted, although you should check with your healthcare provider about personalized recommendations.

Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to keep your energy level up.

You'll need extra calories if you're breastfeeding, so include some high-protein snacks throughout the day. It's also important to stay hydrated and get plenty of fluids, especially if you are breastfeeding. And even though it may be tempting to indulge in caffeine to get you through the day, try to limit your caffeine intake, which can be dehydrating.

You also should keep taking your prenatal vitamins until you feel back to your old self or until your doctor advises you to stop. This habit is especially important if you are breastfeeding.

You also may want to talk to your doctor about trying brewer's yeast. Brewer's yeast is a nutritional supplement used to help fight fatigue and the baby blues. It is also believed to increase the supply of breast milk.

Move Your Body

If your doctor says it's safe to start some light exercise, taking a short walk can help you fight fatigue. Exercise also can help boost your energy level and your mood. Even just a short walk with the stroller out in the fresh air can feel good. But don't overdo it and use up all your energy.

The key is to start small and just get your body moving. Eventually, you can develop a more involved exercise routine. But in those early months, you need to remember that your body is still recovering and that it's best to take things slow.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you are finding it difficult to fight off fatigue, and you continue to have no energy even with good hydration, nutrition, and rest, it's time to contact your doctor. They can examine you to determine if something else is causing your symptoms. 

If you think you might have the baby blues or even postpartum depression that is contributing to your symptoms of fatigue, be sure to share your concerns with your doctor as well. With proper treatment, you will start feeling like yourself again.

A Word From Verywell

It's natural to feel tired in the postpartum period. Healing from childbirth, taking care of a newborn, producing breast milk, and breastfeeding every 2 to 3 hours requires a lot of energy. Add taking care of a home, other children, and work responsibilities, and there's no question as to why you might feel weak, overwhelmed, and exhausted. 

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with fatigue and boost your energy. Ask for help and take the time you need to recover. When you give yourself permission to take care of yourself, eat right, and get enough rest, you'll feel better and be more equipped to care for your newborn and your family.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. New York, NY: Bantam Books; 2011.

  • Amir LH. ABM clinical protocol #4: Mastitis, revised March 2014. Breastfeed Med. 2014;9(5):239-43.

  • Lawrence RA and Lawrence RN. Breastfeeding: A Guide For The Medical Profession. 8th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2015.