Most people probably understand that pregnancy makes you feel tired. However, many are still caught off guard by just how overwhelmingly exhausted it can make you. You may find yourself currently in the middle of this exhaustion, and wondering if there’s anything you can do about tiredness and fatigue during pregnancy. While there’s no way to avoid it or make it go away entirely, the good news is that there are things you can do to help manage it and increase your energy.
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Why Does Pregnancy Cause Fatigue?
You can probably look at a woman in her third trimester and guess why she’s tired! Carrying all of that extra weight and likely not sleeping well with a large belly and a baby resting on her bladder take their toll on a woman’s energy level. It may be harder to see from the outside what’s going on in early pregnancy, but actually, fatigue is often at its worst in the first trimester. In fact, fatigue may be among the first pregnancy symptoms noticed by many women.
Even before you can see visible signs of pregnancy, your body is working very hard. Growing an entirely new person is a workout! Your body, even when you’re resting, is burning a lot of energy and your metabolism is running high (1). Your blood volume increases to support the developing placenta and growing fetus. Because of this, your heart beats faster and stronger, leading to faster pulse and breathing rates (2). Hormones are also a component in pregnancy fatigue. Rapidly increasing progesterone levels are a likely contributor (1, 2).
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help with pregnancy-related fatigue and tiredness. Let’s look at exercise, diet, and rest.
Beat Pregnancy Fatigue with Exercise
It may seem counter-intuitive that you should exercise to increase your energy, but it can actually help (2)! We’re not talking about exhausting yourself with a rigorous workout, of course, but continuing to work out at the level you were before pregnancy or adding some light exercise can boost your energy levels. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you exercise for at least thirty minutes a day, most days (3).
Here are some simple ways to exercise to combat fatigue during pregnancy:
- swimming and water aerobics
- stair climbing machines
- stationary biking
Learn more: Exercise During Pregnancy: Benefits & Safety
Beat Pregnancy Fatigue With Diet
What you eat is important for you and your baby in so many ways. Fueling your body with healthy foods can help your energy level. The primary energy-boosting nutrients you need are iron complex carbohydrates, and protein. (4)
Learn more about iron: Anemia During Pregnancy – Symptoms & How to Treat
Pair complex carbs with protein at mealtimes and in your snacks, because your body will burn this combo slowly, giving you energy for several hours at a time. You may find it helpful to keep track of your energy levels for a few days. If you find that you’re especially tired at a particular time of day, try adding a snack at that time.
Avoid the temptation to grab sugary foods or caffeine — in addition to being unhealthy, they’ll give you only a short burst of energy and then you’ll feel even more tired than before.
As your body breaks down complex carbs, energy is released at a steady pace, giving you fuel in the short and medium-term to fight pregnancy fatigue. Pairing complex carbs with protein causes an even slower burn, making the energy last longer and keeping you feeling full for longer (4). Limit your intake of simple carbohydrates (also called refined carbs) like sugar and white flour, which burn quickly and cause energy spikes and drops.
Good sources of complex carbs are:
- whole grains (including brown rice and pasta)
- fresh fruit and vegetables (particularly starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, corn, green peas, and parsnips)
- legumes like beans, peas, and lentils (4)
The process that your body goes through when it breaks protein down into energy is a long one involving several steps. This means that protein gives you a slow release of energy over several hours. This is why it’s a great complement to complex carbs. Your body accesses the carbs more quickly, but the protein stretches the process out longer. Pregnancy fatigue can’t be completely eliminated with food, but eating this way is your best dietary weapon to give you more energy.
Good sources of protein include:
- lean meat
- dried legumes like beans, peas, and lentils
- nuts and seeds
- milk and dairy products
And before we move on from talking about what you eat, let’s take a moment to remember that what you drink matters, too! Dehydration can compound to the feeling of tiredness, so make sure you’re drinking enough. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
Beat Pregnancy Fatigue With Rest
It may sound pretty obvious, but if you’re tired, try to rest. That can be easier said than done, though. Our lives can be so busy, and you may have to be creative in making more time to rest. You may need to let some chores slide or ask for more help from your partner, friends, or family. Maybe take advantage of perks like having groceries delivered. Try adding a midday nap into your routine, or catch a quick rest during your lunch break if you work outside the home. Consider going to bed earlier. And you may need to scale back on your social life for a while — your friends will understand — or shift to brunch with friends instead of late evening plans.
The Return of Pregnancy Tiredness and Fatigue
As you move from the first to the second trimester, you will likely find that you’re less tired and feel more energetic overall. However, pregnancy tiredness and fatigue usually make a comeback in the third trimester. By this time, your body is carrying a lot of extra weight. On top of that, your nighttime sleep may be disrupted by achy joints, the inability to get comfortable with your large baby bump, baby’s movements, and the need to make more frequent trips to the bathroom. You can use the same tips and tricks to deal with pregnancy fatigue when it returns later.
Fatigue may seem like a difficult symptom of pregnancy, as it effects your ability to go about your life as you’re used to. You may have to let things go as you learn to adjust to your new, yet temporary, energy level. Preserve your energy to accomplish the things that are important to you in the day. And as for the things that just aren’t as important… you’ve got a great excuse to step away from them!
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- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month, 5th edition.
- (n.d.). Retrieved July 18, 2020, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=134
- Aron, E. A. (2006) Pregnancy dos & don’ts: the smart woman’s pocket companion for a safe and sound pregnancy. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
- Barratt, J., Cross, C., Steel, S., & Biswas, C. (2016). The pregnancy encyclopedia: All your questions answered. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited.