(This article appeared first in Your pregnancy, issue 103, Jun/Jul 2015)
Feeling tired and a depleted during pregnancy is to be expected and, in most cases, will pass soon enough. The trick to not letting it become a problem is to know the difference between normal fatigue and when it crosses the line to become full-blown exhaustion that needs treatment.
“What’s ‘normal’ really varies between people,” says Dr Etti Barsky, who is a sports physician and partner of Preggi Bellies South Africa. Women tend to battle with exhaustion in the first and third trimesters – for different reasons.
“In the first trimester it is a physiological adaptation. Your body uses its energy to change and accommodate for both the mom and foetus needs. In the last trimester it is more a matter of mechanics.
Your body is heavier and you’re not necessarily sleeping well. Throw into the mix one or two more children and/or a job, and you have a recipe for exhaustion,” says Dr Barsky. It’s when this exhaustion becomes constant that it’s time to get help. “Basically, if you are struggling to cope with the physical demands of day to day life, then that is your cue to visit your gynaecologist or doctor to check if thereis anything else going on,” advises Dr Barsky.
WHY AM I SO TIRED?
Your state of exhaustion could be due to any one or a combination of treatable causes, according to Chrisna Brand, a dietician and owner of Leap Moms and Kidz. This includes everything from stress to a regular cold, which can all deplete your immune system, making you tired. Not getting enough rest or sleep is also a cause for exhaustion.
The reason you may not be sleeping is due to higher levels of the hormone oestrogen, which has a stimulating (awakening) effect. Your lack of sleep is also caused by the constant need to use the bathroom.
Other physical causes of exhaustion include low blood pressure, untreated hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and lower levels of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. “On top of that yourbaby has a different type of haemoglobin that uses your oxygen, so it’s a doublewhammy,” says Chrisna.
“There could also be other clinical causes such as irondeficiency anaemia, thyroid imbalance, poor eating habits which result in not enough caloric intake to sustain your energy, and lastly,but certainly not to be ignored, depression,” says Dr Barsky. Chrisna strongly agrees that poor eating habits are a key culprit for exhaustion and warns against not following a balanced diet while pregnant.
She especially advises against low carbohydrate diets, which she says are not suitable for pregnant women.
“Not taking in enough carbohydrate rich foods not only deprives you of necessary energy but is very dangerous for your baby as your body might go into a state of ketosis. In a study using lab rats, ketosis has shown to cause problems in the growth of a few organs – one of which one was the brain.
CHECK YOUR DIET
Most often the causes for exhaustion during pregnancy can be treated by makingdietary, exercise and/or lifestyle changes. If there are no urgent medical cause, making sure you’re following a balanced diet is a good place to start, says Chrisna. Begin by sticking to three meals and two snacks a day.
Regular eating will ensure your blood sugar levels remain stable and you won’t feel tired. Also keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
As for what to have in your meals and snacks, Chrisna stresses the importance of including a variety of foods from all the food groups and not excluding any foods unless advised by a doctor.
“Opt for low GI starches,different colours of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low fat or fat free dairy and plantoils. Include beans as well as fish rich in omega 3, such as mackerel, sardines and pilchards, twice a week.” Stay away from foods and drinks high in sugar, which can aggravate tiredness by causing “sugar highs” followed by crashes.
Read: Pregnant tummy troubles
“Especially avoid snacks high in animal fats such as crisps, chocolates, pastries and pies, as these usually provide an abundance of kilojoules, unhealthy fat and little nutritional value,” says Chrisna. She also recommends limiting caffeinated drinks to a maximum of two per day.
Last but not least, monitor your weight gain. “Excessive weight gain is not only unhealthy for you and your baby but will also cause more tiredness towards the end of your pregnancy due to the extra weight you will have to carry around,” she explains.
DO YOUR BODY GOOD
In addition to following a balanced diet, Dr Barsky says exercise is highly recommended as a way to replenish energy. “This is due to the adrenaline produced during exercise and your body secreting endorphins which help you feel good.
Exercise has also been found to improve the quality of sleep.” Dr Peter Vincent from the Medicross Tokai Family Medical and Dental Centre adds that it’s equally important to “take correct iron folate and calcium supplements from the beginning of pregnancy and to have standard blood checks and antenatal visits”.
But above all, he says: “Listen to your body. If you are tired, rest. Pace yourself. Only do essential housework and don’t book non-essential activities. Ask for help from family and get enough sleep.”
Are you suffering from extreme exhaustion during your pregnancy? Send your stories to email@example.com and we may publish it.