Fatigue and the Joy of Pregnancy

Though fatigue is a symptom that can plague anyone at almost any point in life, women often seem to be particularly susceptible to its effects. In fact, there is one area in life where women are uniquely vulnerable to extreme exhaustion: pregnancy.


pregnant woman

Pregnancy is, for many women, one of the most joyous times of life. The very knowledge that a woman carries new life within her can be a truly wondrous thing. Despite that joy, however, there is one common ailment that can follow women throughout pregnancy. That something is fatigue. And while it may not strike every woman in exactly the same way, continual feelings of sluggishness and extreme exhaustion are a part of pregnancy that most women would just as soon do without.

Pregnancy Fatigue during Each Trimester

Most people associate pregnancy with symptoms such as morning sickness, back pain, and overactive bladders. Women who have been pregnant, however, know the effects of fatigue all too well. To make matters even worse, that exhaustion only serves to exacerbate other symptoms like nausea and moodiness. The good news for most women is that the worst effects of this fatigue generally tend to disappear during the second trimester. However, the extreme exhaustion experienced in the first and third trimesters far outweigh that brief respite.

First Trimester Fatigue

There are a variety of reasons why fatigue sets in fairly quickly during that first trimester of pregnancy. One of the main causes of exhaustion at this stage is the increase in the body’s production of progesterone. Since this hormone plays a role in making you sleepy, it is only natural that rising levels of progesterone would contribute to fatigue.

Progesterone’s Critical Role

While it might be tempting to condemn progesterone for its role in pregnancy fatigue, it is important to remember its indispensible role in the entire process:

  • Progesterone actually begins its work even before the egg is fertilized. In fact, it is released during each menstrual cycle as a way of preparing the body for the possibility of egg fertilization. When a pregnancy fails to occur, those progesterone levels fall and wait for the next cycle to repeat the process.
  • When an egg is fertilized, progesterone works to stimulate blood vessel growth to supply the womb with nutrients. It also works to prepare the uterus for implantation of the fertilized egg.
  • Progesterone is also responsible for aiding in the creation of the placenta, which then starts producing its own progesterone at around three months into the pregnancy.
  • Progesterone helps to develop the unborn child, sparks the creation of breast tissue for nursing – while preventing lactation, and aids in strengthening the pelvis so that it can handle the rigors of labor.
  • Progesterone levels rise during the entire pregnancy, and only abate after the baby has been born.

Of course, progesterone is not the only first trimester source of fatigue. The pregnancy process requires dramatic alterations in a woman’s body as systems that were designed to nourish one body gradually modify their activities to ensure that they can sustain two lives. The body forms more blood to ensure proper delivery of nutrients, which causes an increase in the activities of organs like the heart. All of this extra internal activity, combined with the massive influx of hormones, creates stress that manifests as fatigue.



Second Trimester Fatigue

While there may be some residual fatigue as the second trimester begins, most women start to feel a rejuvenation of energy. Though progesterone still plays a critical role throughout the remainder of the pregnancy, that initial surge in the production of the hormone tapers to a more gradual increase. That reduces the stress placed on the expecting mother’s body, which can lead to an improvement in mood as well.

Still, even this trimester poses some risk for fatigue, so women who expect a three month hiatus from any exhaustion may be in for a surprise. The body is still changing throughout this trimester, and women can still find themselves overwhelmed by all the normal concerns of life. For the most part, however, it is generally agreed that the second trimester is one of increased energy levels and more opportunity for accomplishing tasks and enjoying life.

Third Trimester Fatigue

By the third trimester, expecting mothers are facing a far different dynamic than during the first six months of pregnancy. The additional weight they are carrying places tremendous strain on the back and legs, as well as respiration and bladder activity. This is the trimester in which most mothers experience muscle aches, sleeplessness, and a continuous need to urinate. Obviously, these stressors can quickly turn the energy of the second trimester into exhaustion during the final few months of the pregnancy.

Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency, and its tendency to cause anemia, are also a concern during all three stages of pregnancy. Because the creation of new supplies of red blood cells requires iron, much of the iron that would ordinarily be available for the mother ends up being redirected to meet the baby’s needs. As iron levels fall precipitously, anemia can result – causing fatigue, general weakness, breathlessness, and abnormally pale skin. Your physician may supply you with iron supplements or recommend changes to your diet to counteract these effects.



Treating your Pregnancy Fatigue

Since fatigue during pregnancy is not an actual medical condition, but merely a natural symptom of the pregnancy itself, there is no magic cure for it. It must instead be managed over the course of the pregnancy, and when it cannot be countered it must be endured. Fortunately, doctors can help you develop a strategy to alter your diet, exercise, and rest routines to mitigate fatigue as much as possible.

Diet

There is much that can be done for fatigue by focusing on better dietary choices. That includes increasing your calorie intake each day, to ensure that you are providing sufficient nutrients for both yourself and your baby. Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, that does not mean eating everything in sight! In reality, you only need an additional three hundred calories a day, provided they are coming from healthy foods.

To ensure that you’re getting the right amount of nutrients, it is important to focus on eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole foods. It is also wise to eat more often throughout the day, with small meals that are well-balanced between proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. A more steady influx of nutrients over the course of the day can help to balance out those energy highs and lows you would otherwise experience.



Exercise

Yes, you’re in pain throughout much of your pregnancy. An aching back, tired legs and general weariness can make it difficult to contemplate any physical activity. Still, physical exercise is important for maintaining your strength and energy levels. Do short low-impact exercises like walking or yoga to help you remain limber and mobile.

Rest

Pregnancy is the one time in a woman’s life when she never has to apologize for taking a little extra rest. Make sure that your sleep schedule takes priority, and squeeze in naps whenever you feel your energy levels waning. Even a short ten minute nap can do wonders for shaking off those energy lows you’ll experience. You owe it to yourself to get as much rest as possible during pregnancy – especially when you consider that most new mothers lose that level of complete control over their sleep schedule as soon as their babies are born!

Fatigue can be challenging for any pregnant woman, but that doesn’t mean that you have to let it define your pregnancy experience. By understanding what is causing your fatigue symptoms, and taking proactive steps to address those causes, you can mitigate the effects of exhaustion. That can enable you to enjoy higher energy levels during your pregnancy and focus your attention more fully on the joys of that experience.




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