You might have noticed that, if your mom or another woman in your family is expecting a baby, they are probably pretty tired a lot.  Fatigue is actually considered to be a normal part of pregnancy — at least up to a point. Read on to find out more about it.

What Exactly is Fatigue?

Fatigue is not a disease but a condition, usually caused by other things.  When you are fatigued, you can feel tired all the time — and sometimes completely exhausted.  Some people with fatigue are tired as soon as they wake up in the morning and can stay tired throughout the day, even if they are getting enough sleep.

Fatigue can be difficult to live with because it makes it hard to go to work, clean up the house, fix a meal — or do any of the many, many things your mom probably does throughout the day!

Why are Pregnant Women at Risk for Fatigue?

Pregnant women are at greater risk for fatigue because it takes a LOT of energy to make a baby!  A woman’s body is working overtime to support the growing baby inside her and this can make her feel very tired.  For many women, the fatigue is the worst in the first trimester (first three months) of the pregnancy when enormous amounts of energy go into the building of the placenta, which acts as a sort of life support system for the unborn baby.  Fatigue often gets better in the second trimester, but then can become severe again in the last few months of pregnancy, where the growing baby can make it more difficult to sleep and problems like heartburn and restless leg syndrome are common.  Changes in a pregnant woman’s blood pressure, blood sugar and hormone levels can also cause tiredness.

Pregnant women at greater risk for fatigue are women who:

  • Are over 35 years of age
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Have other medical problems like anemia or thyroid problems
  • Are depressed

What Will the Doctor Do?

If a pregnant woman has severe or abnormal fatigue, it is important for her to go in and talk to her doctor about this problem.  Why? Because the fatigue might be due to another medical condition that needs to be taken care of in order for mom and baby to be healthy.  The doctor will usually ask about a woman’s fatigue, find out about her medical history and usually take blood samples to find out if there is an underlying problem.  Often, anemia, an underactive thyroid gland, or some kind of nutrient deficiency is to blame for the problem.

How do You Treat Fatigue?

Some of the following treatments will depend on what is causing the fatigue in the first place, while other are good to put into practice no matter what. Fatigue treatment can include:

  • Practicing good sleeping habits like going to bed and getting up around the same time each day and aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep at night (at least until the baby comes!)
  • Napping during the day if needed. It is important for a pregnant woman to listen to her body and rest when she is able to if she is tired.
  • Pacing activities and not trying to do too much all at once
  • Prioritizing activities so that the most important things get done first
  • Asking for help from others to do things like housework, errands, meal preparation, etc., especially if the fatigue is severe.
  • Eating right can also make a difference. The best thing to help with sustained energy levels is the combination of a food with protein (like cheese or peanut butter) with a food that has complex carbohydrates (like whole grain bread or crackers).
  • Avoiding sugar and caffeine is also a good idea: these can be sources of quick energy, but they also are used up quickly and can lead to a crash in energy levels.
  • Iron supplements and a high-iron diet if anemia is the problem
  • Thyroid hormones like Synthroid if the thyroid is underactive
  • Antidepressant medication if depression is an issue. An antidepressant can help to treat feelings of fatigue and even sadness or poor concentration that can go along with this conditIon. Some antidepressants are safe for pregnancy and some are not and a woman will have to discuss these options with her doctor.

So give your mom a break if she looks really tired — because chances are, she probably is!  However, it is also good to realize that fatigue is generally considered to be an expected part of pregnancy and as long as it is not severe, it is nothing you should worry about.