Fatigue might be one of the first signs that you're expecting – it's certainly one of the most common early symptoms of pregnancy. Prepare yourself, because it's something you could have quite a battle with throughout your pregnancy.
What is it?
The term 'pregnancy fatigue' doesn't really seem to do justice to quite how physically exhausted you might feel when pregnant – particularly during the first and third trimesters, when it can hit you like a ton of bricks.
It's not a case of just feeling a bit tired – you might well feel completely and utterly on your knees. You might find yourself falling asleep in a heap at 7pm every night. You might find it incredibly difficult, even impossible, to do normal, everyday tasks. And all that can happen well before you have a bump.
This sort of lethargy is not something most of us are used to, but you're not imagining it – the reasons for pregnancy fatigue are physiological. Of course your body is being flooded with hormones, but let's also take a moment to consider exactly what your body is doing, from the moment you conceive. In the first trimester, you are growing not only a new human being, but also a new organ with which to sustain that tiny little life inside you.
Creating a placenta from scratch is no mean feat – that incredible piece of machinery does the job of many organs all in one go. It feeds your baby with nutrients and supplies oxygen; it takes waste products away from your baby, so your own body can dispose of them; it creates hormones, which your baby needs to develop and grow well; and it protects your baby from bacteria. Wowsers.
Imagine how long it would take, how many man hours, and how much energy, for scientists to create something that amazing in a lab. And you, your body, is doing it all by itself. It's no wonder it's struggling to climb the stairs at night!
Often, mums-to-be will come out of the very tired phase as they enter into their second trimester – and you should enjoy that opportunity to 'glow', because by the time you enter your third, tiredness can return with a vengeance.
By this point, the fatigue is being caused by the growing strain your growing baby is placing on your body. Your little one is, of course, much bigger now and taking energy from you every second of every day. Add to that increasing discomfort (and countless loo trips during the night), and you can see how the need-for-Zzzzzs / opportunities-for-Zzzzzs ratio becomes unbalanced.
What can I do?
Well that's obvious isn't it? When you feel tired, sleep!
Obvious, yes. Not exactly practical (or possible) though. Many women pregnant with their first baby have a job, and countless other things on their daily to-do lists.
And women pregnant with their second baby (or third, or fourth...) have at least one other child to look after! And maybe a job too! AND countless other things on their daily to-do lists!
Sorry if the !!! are making me sound somewhat hysterical, but I remember, I do. It is very hard to live a normal, busy life, when you feel there is not a shred of energy left in you, even five minutes after you've lifted your head of your pillow.
The good news (hopefully) is there are some things you can do to stave off, or ease the horrendous tiredness.
The obvious one – still – is to rest, whenever you can. No, you can't just switch your life off, but think about what MUST be done today, or now, and what can wait. Give yourself a break. If, at 7pm, all you can think of doing is going to bed, then go. The laundry can fester, and no one's going to suffer harm if the washing up doesn't get done until the morning.
The next obvious one is to ask for some help – and particularly if you already have a child or children who need looking after. Perhaps it's always you that usually does all/most/many of the chores around the house – but pushing yourself too hard and allowing yourself to become horribly tired is no good for you, your unborn, or the rest of your family (grumps, anyone?).
Be honest about how you are feeling, say when you need to go and put your feet up and refer anyone who seems not to understand to the paragraph above discussing what your body is currently up to. Remember, even quite small children can (and should!) do their bit by, for example, putting their own shoes and toys away. And if they take a nap during the day, do the same yourself.
Many mums decide not to tell anyone but their nearest and dearest about their pregnancy until they've had their first scan – but an upside of telling your boss is that they can make allowances for you if you're struggling to stay alert all day. If they're in the know, they'll also understand if you turn down extra work, or feel the need to clock out on time every day. Be sure to take your breaks, find a quiet space and have a cat nap if you can.
Eat well and exercise...
Yup, if your bed is beckoning, you might be tempted to fall into it before even making yourself a sandwich – but do keep yourself topped up with nutritious meals and snacks, because they are what your body needs to complete its work.
So eat three quality meals a day, and snacks in between. Do avoid quick chocolate-biscuit-shaped pick-me-ups and find healthy alternatives, full of protein and complex carbs instead. Just remember, the food, as well as the sleep, is what will keep you from keeling over.
You need to make sure you drink enough fluids, too – water, fruit and vegetable juices, herbal teas – because your energy will sap quicker if you become dehydrated. It might be tempting to reach for the coffee jar when you need a quick energy boost, but remember that boost will only be short-lived and you do need to limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200mg, or a couple of mugs of instant a day.
Although moving might be the absolute last thing you feel like doing, gentle exercise (a stroll or a couple of lengths in the pool, not two hours in the gym) can really help with your overall energy levels.
In the latter stages of pregnancy (when your baby is pushing on parts of your body you were never previously aware of, when your back aches, your legs swell and you seemingly can't even take in a great big breath to refresh your body with oxygen), it can be very hard to sleep, even when you are shattered.
Again, take your rest wherever you can, but at night time especially, get as comfortable as possible by having a relaxing bath before bed, perhaps asking for a back rub and reading yourself to sleep (rather than watching a horror movie, for example!).
Some women find lying on their (left) side and placing a pillow under their bump can help with the pulling sensation caused by gravity pulling their belly downwards. You could try a pregnancy pillow and experiment to find the most comfortable way to use it, or just use a normal pillow (you might have to try a few different ones to find the perfect amount of plumpness!).
Should I see a doctor?
Fatigue is a very common and very normal part of pregnancy. Resting whenever possible, eating well, drinking enough water and taking gentle exercise are the best ways to alleviate it.
However, if you suddenly feel unusually tired at any stage of your pregnancy, and none of the above seems to help, you should mention it to your midwife or see your GP because you might be suffering from anaemia caused by iron deficiency. This can usually be solved with a course of iron tablets.
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