From the moment of conception there’s an explosion of life as your body lifts off and bursts with creation. If you stop and consider what a feat your body is performing as it builds a new body, cell by cell (in only 280 days), you can understand your need for rest.
In the beginning the need for sleep catches you unawares and you may find yourself nodding off during breakfast, lunch and supper.
If this is unusual for you, or if you’ve never been pregnant before, it can cause great concern as you rush to the doctor, thinking you’re anaemic or suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. No, he tells you, something is very right, you’re pregnant! Pregnancy fatigue happens at different stages of pregnancy and for different reasons.
- Also see: Chronic fatigue in pregnancy
Early sleepy feelings
It’s commonly referred to as “natural lethargy”. In fact, it’s often a first sign of pregnancy, and for women who have been pregnant before, it may make them suspicious enough to do a pregnancy test.
As your body moves into a position of defence, these feelings of weariness and laziness is nature’s way of slowing you down so that you don’t do anything potentially dangerous. This is the most important developmental stage of your baby’s life, both inside and outside the womb.
The rate of growth is phenomenal. Go ahead and give in to these feelings. Follow your body’s lead and nap whenever you can, without feeling guilty. During the first trimester, your body is in turbo mode and it takes a lot of super-charged energy to adjust to the hormonal changes.
Nausea and vomiting is very much part of early pregnancy and this can make matters worse. It’s draining on a physical and emotional level! Other emotions, such as anxiety, can add to fatigue.
Many women will want to start all sorts of exercise and eating programmes to get off to a good start. Try not to give in to this impulse. The time will come when you’ll have much more energy, usually when you move into the second trimester. Sleep as much as possible and put your feet up whenever you can.
Take advantage of weekends and sleep in. Ask dad or another family member to take care of other children – at least one day on the weekend, so you can grab some extra zzzs. As you move into the second trimester, you find you get a surge of energy and the tiredness usually subsides at about 16 weeks.
- Also see: Exhausted all the time?
Tiredness in later pregnancy
In the latter part of your pregnancy, fatigue will again creep up on you, this time for a different reason. As your baby gets heavier your body is carrying 9-11kg of extra weight. Think of it as carrying around a 10kg bag of dog food. One can see why your body takes some strain, and why it’s important to spend some time off your feet.
Also, it’s difficult to get good quality sleep if you’re uncomfortable and constantly moving or changing positions in bed. Night sweats may add to the problem, as well as getting up frequently to use the loo! Other causes of fatigue during pregnancy include anaemia, lower blood pressure, shortness of breath, poor nutrition, stress, and tension.
Fatigue is a natural and normal aspect of pregnancy and while it can’t be prevented, there is a lot you can do to reduce it.
- Regular physical activity is your best weapon against fatigue. Enrol in a prenatal exercise class.
- Your diet should include generous amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t skip meals and watch out for those sugary snacks. Low blood sugar causes fatigue and horrible headaches.
- Take an iron supplement daily and be sure to eat iron-rich foods.
- Practise relaxation and meditation to relieve stress and tension.
- During your work day, take time out to stretch your upper and lower back to ease tension.
- If you’re comfortable doing so, lie with your feet elevated above the level of your heart for about 15 minutes. This will improve the blood flow and make you feel energised.
What to do
As there are no proven safe medicines for you to take for fatigue during pregnancy, avoid taking stimulants or medications for increasing energy.
- Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine.
- Try not to push yourself beyond your capabilities. Be reasonable and don’t feel guilty saying no to unnecessary extra work.
- If fatigue is accompanied by fainting, breathlessness or heart palpitations, then it’s time to seek some medical attention to check something more serious isn’t going on.
- Remember adequate rest, sleep and naps are now a necessity, not a luxury, so do everything you can to make time to rest.
- Also see: Sleep well while pregnant
Stay on top of fatigue
- Accept the fact that you need extra rest and pace your daily activities. Add an afternoon nap to your schedule; catnaps of 15 to 20 minutes can be rejuvenating.
- Avoid taking on extra responsibilities during this time in your life.
- Invest in a rocking chair and enjoy the comforting motion of moving forward and backward. Your baby will also benefit.
- Keep a good supply of nutritious snacks on hand. Fruits and juices, crudités, cheese, milk and yoghurt, peanuts and raisins, cold chicken, and high fibre muffins.
- Savour this wonderful experience as your body’s wisdom leads you through the miracle of creation.
- Have a cup of rooibos or chamomile tea before bedtime.
- A few drops of lavender oil on a tissue near your pillow will also calm and soothe your nerves.
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