Understanding and Managing Fatigue During Pregnancy

Pregnant African woman sleeping on sofa
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Fatigue during pregnancy is absolutely normal — especially in the first few months and the last trimester. For some women, fatigue is overwhelming; for others, it's relatively mild. Either way, it is part of the process of making a baby.

Why Does Fatigue Occur During Pregnancy? 

For the first trimester, your body is working overtime — creating a placenta and revving up to provide the nutrition and support needed by a growing baby. Your metabolism increases, as does your blood flow — so your body needs more than its usual allotment of nutrition and rest. The first trimester can also be a time of hormone-induced mood swings. These can be exhausting in themselves, especially if you're trying to avoid spilling the beans about your pregnancy until after the first trimester is safely complete.

During the second trimester, your body levels off a bit. Yes, you're still eating and sleeping "for two," but now that the placenta has formed and your body has adjusted a bit, you may feel a little more energetic. This is a good time to get the nursery ready and complete any important tasks on your agenda — because you won't be feeling this energetic again for a while!

As you move into the third trimester, you'll start to feel fatigue again. This time, the reasons are more visibly obvious:

  • You're carrying a great deal of weight — all the time. And that baby just keeps getting heavier.
  • You're probably having a difficult time sleeping at night, due to the baby's movements and difficulty with getting comfortable.
  • You may be having a hard time with digestion and elimination.
  • Every ordinary movement becomes more strenuous as you have to work around a growing abdomen and, in some cases, swollen ankles and other physical issues.
  • You may be experiencing night time cramps and "restless legs," another reason why sleep may elude you.
  • Anxiety about childbirth may start to make relaxation harder — and sleep more difficult to come by.

How to Combat Fatigue

Fortunately, pregnancy is a time when friends and family often rally around to make things easier for the mom to be. If you're feeling exhausted, take advantage of any help that others offer! As you get bigger, it's harder to cope with ordinary household tasks — so ask for or hire support. In addition, these tips may help: 

  • Take a short nap when you can, but not so long that it will interfere with your night rest.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Get up at roughly the same time every day.
  • Exercise daily, but not after dinner. Consider a prenatal fitness class, and avoid strenuous activity (particularly weight lifting).
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Check your nutrition and eat small, nutritious meals throughout the day.
  • Stay hydrated.

When to Call the Doctor 

While it's perfectly normal to feel tired during pregnancy, a sudden increase in fatigue is not normal. This may be a sign that something is not quite right with your pregnancy. Other issues that can arise include depression-related fatigue or fatigue due to anemia (lack of iron in the blood).

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