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Feeling tired in pregnancy is a common experience. But at what point does normal tiredness or fatigue become something to be concerned about? And what can you do if you’re feeling as if it’s all just a big struggle?

What is pregnancy fatigue?

Most women feel tired during pregnancy and it’s common, at times, to feel exhausted. It’s worth remembering that 24 hours/day your body is growing and supporting a baby towards independent life. It’s no wonder you’re feeling tired!

In the first trimester especially, hormonal changes are significant. Some people believe that pregnancy fatigue is nature’s way of ensuring pregnant women rest and don’t overexert themselves. This is a protective mechanism to ensure the baby’s survival.

Symptoms of pregnancy fatigue

  • Pregnancy fatigue covers a range of symptoms, not all of them tiredness related. Nausea, light headedness and feeling forgetful are all part of the group of symptoms grouped under the title of pregnancy fatigue.
  • Feeling tired even though you may be sleeping well.
  • Waking up feeling tired rather than refreshed and energized.
  • Not having stamina for usual activities.
  • Feeling very tired after a few hours at work.
  • Not being as interested in things you may usually find fascinating.

What causes pregnancy fatigue?

The most common cause of pregnancy fatigue is hormonal influence. Progesterone rises quickly in early pregnancy and many women feel its effects in the first few weeks after their pregnancy is confirmed. In fact, exhaustion is often one of the first signs of pregnancy, even before a missed period.

Extra circulating blood volume is another cause of pregnancy fatigue. The placenta and uterus require a greater volume of blood to help support the growing baby. But it also means the mother’s heart and lungs need to work harder.

Caring for older children, working outside the home and other demands all contribute to pregnancy fatigue.

How long does pregnancy fatigue last?

Most women report feeling less exhausted in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy. However, this depends on what else if going on in a mother’s life.

What to avoid

  • Getting up too quickly. Many pregnant women experience blood pressure changes during pregnancy and standing up suddenly can cause a drop in B.P. Fainting can happen if the brain isn’t receiving sufficient oxygen.
  • Having long breaks between meals. If your blood sugar is low, you’re more likely to feel tired and faint. Eat something every couple of hours and remember not to miss meals.
  • Drinking large volumes of water in the evening. This will contribute to having to get up to the toilet overnight.
  • Taking on too much during your pregnancy e.g. home renovation, a new job, moving house and other activities which will add stress to your life.

Potential impact on your baby

As far as we know, there is no harm to the developing baby from maternal pregnancy fatigue. The baby is protected in all sorts of ways to grow until it is ready to be born.

What’s the good news about pregnancy fatigue?

Pregnancy fatigue does not harm a mother or her baby. While it is an unpleasant experience, it does not cause any health risks or pregnancy complications.

What to do for pregnancy fatigue

  • Self care is important. Eat a healthy and nutritious diet and avoid eating kilojoule dense but nutritionally empty food.
  • Rest when you can. Even if you can’t sleep during the day lie down and try to relax.
  • Remember, it’s important to always lie down and sleep on your side, especially in late pregnancy. This will help the flow of blood and oxygen to your baby.
  • Open a window and get some fresh air. Get up and stretch, do some exercise and move around.
  • Stay well hydrated and drink plenty of water. Avoid drinking too much coffee, caffeinated or energy drinks as a means of staying alert. Check information on recommended caffeine intake during pregnancy.
  • Listen to mindfulness apps and interesting podcasts. When feeling exhausted, it can help to focus on something else rather than how we feel.

Top five tips for dealing with pregnancy fatigue

  1. Be kind to yourself. For a lot of women, pregnancy isn’t easy and it’s reasonable to do whatever you can just to get through.
  2. Avoid standing for long periods of time. Sit and rest when you can, even 5-10 minutes resting can make a difference.
  3. Make your bedroom a nurturing place. Remove clutter and ensure you have good ventilation and light. Use nice bed linen, have water handy and a night light for reading. Turn off your phone and digital devices at least one hour before going to bed.
  4. Avoid gaining too much weight in your pregnancy. Check information about BMI, weight and pregnancy.
  5. Go for a walk, even if you’re feeling tired. This will help to lift your mood and spread oxygen around your body.

It’s important to exclude any underlying physical reason for pregnancy fatigue and exhaustion. Low iron can contribute and this is a common condition in pregnancy. A blood test to check for anemia, as well as thyroid function can be ordered by your maternity care provider if you’re concerned.

FAQ

When will I feel less exhausted?

Pregnancy fatigue is generally at its peak in the first trimester of pregnancy when the baby is forming. Most women report they feel better in their 2nd and 3rd trimesters.

I’m exhausted by 7pm and want to go to bed, is that normal?

It can be. Listen to your body and don’t try to stay up late even though your body is telling you to go to bed.

Written and reviewed by Jane Barry, midwife and child health nurse on 17/04/20.

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