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Relief from Pregnancy Fatigue

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Pregnant woman sleeping photo courtesy by dizznbonn

Pregnancy fatigue is one of the more unpleasant early signs of pregnancy. Sleeping more helps and enhances your wellbeing and baby's development. It also keeps you fit for when baby arrives.

Easier said than done of course: with hormones racing and your belly growing, it is not always easy to get the extra sleep you need.

But with a few simple gestures, you can relieve the fatigue and sleep well during pregnancy.

Pregnancy fatigue and sleeping problems

Pregnancy fatigue may come as a bit of a shock for an active healthy woman: suddenly your body seems unable to follow you.

Things you used to do without even thinking about it, can now be too daunting, just because you're tired.

You may feel tired constantly, be wasted by dinnertime, or even wake up every morning and not feel rested at all ... it's inevitable unfortunately but luckily all normal for most of us.

Especially during the first trimester, a lot of your body's energy goes into the early development of baby and the placenta. You will naturally want to sleep more.

Later on in pregnancy, your body still needs extra energy although the pregnancy fatigue may be less - your body adjusts.

But you may have more practical sleeping problems now, like finding a good sleeping position, getting up a zillion times to go to the bathroom, worrying about delivery, etc ... (see below for tips). All leaving you tired as well.

(Note: Of course, if you feel extremely tired at any point during pregnancy, and are in doubt whether this is still normal, do not hesitate to ask a medical professional.)

Pregnancy Fatigue Tips

What you can do:
  • Accept the fatigue and sleep when you can
There's no way around it, your body needs more sleep during pregnancy. Difficult as you may find it, it is important to sleep a lot.

In contrast with what many still think, there is no shame in taking a nap or going to bed earlier. Forgot about what 'they think', it's about you and your baby now.

Sleeping more may not always be practical, especially with older children and/or work. But every half hour extra you can get relieves the pregnancy fatigue a bit and both you and your baby will benefit from it.
  • Find a good pregnancy sleeping position
As your belly grows, it may become difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Sleeping on your stomach will soon become impossible, and not suited.

Sleeping on your back will soon not be comfortable. Your baby's weight will also put pressure on your spine and the large vein running down it, which is not easy on your heart.

Therefore, sleeping on your side is the best sleeping position throughout pregnancy. If you don't usually sleep on your side, then it's a good idea to start practicing early on in pregnancy.

Ideally you will be curling up a bit: on your side, your knees bent, your top knee over and in front of the other knee.

A maternity pillow (also called pregnancy pillow) or also a breastfeeding pillow, can help you find, and keep, a comfy position.

Many doctors advise to sleep on your left side - to spare the liver located on the right - check with your doctor or midwife when you can.
  • Dealing with leg and toe cramps
Many women have frequent leg or toe cramps when pregnant. More often than not, these occur in the middle of the night - and can be very painful.

To relieve a lower leg or toe cramp your toes need to be pushed upwards to stretch your calve.

Ideally another person will do this for you. If you are alone, press your toes against the bedside or wall to get the stretch. Throughout, relax by breathing deeply and slowly, then gently release the stretch.

There is a very simple natural remedy for such muscle cramps, that I learnt from a Pilates master trainer: eat a banana. It is a helathy source of magnesium, which helps prevent cramps, and make them less painful. Tried, tested and approved!

If you have very frequent and very painful cramps, do consult your doctor who may advise further.
  • Preventing all too frequent bathroom stops
Another very common pregnancy 'feature': frequent bathroom stops. Thanks to hormones your body produces more liquid. And with your uterus growing, there is also less space for your bladder.

All leading to more 'need to go', unfortunately also during the night, waking you up frequently. Some tips:
  1. You can reduce this a bit by drinking less late at night and avoiding (heavy) meals or snacks late. Do not exaggerate though: your body still needs enough fluids.

  2. Water is the best choice in the evening. Definitely avoid tea and coffee: not only can they keep you awake, but they drain liquid from your body quite intensively, giving you a stronger urge still.

  3. If you can arrange it practically, the half-hour trick will help you avoid a few nightly bathroom runs. Pee about half an hour or an hour before you go to bed. 
Then during that half hour/hour, rest in the sofa, preferably with your legs stretched out. Then go the toilet right before bed. During the rest, your body will have the chance to drain some liquid that gathered in your limbs - a big reason for the first few night awakenings.
  • Stick to good sleep hygiene
For the best chance for good sleep, follow the basic sleep hygiene guidelines:

- make your bedroom an attractive cosy place to relax
- not too hot not too cold
- go to bed and get up at regular times
- prepare your body for bed with a relaxed bedtime routine

Avoid the following food and drinks in the afternoon and evening, as they will keep you awake:
  1. Coffee and tea (remember that even most white and green teas contain caffeine). It takes about 6 hours for your body to clear the caffeine from your system.
  2. Chocolate (contains caffeine too)
  3. Sugary snacks and drinks
  4. Smoking (which you want to avoid anyway, see smoking and SIDS.)
Water, a glass of warm milk or herbal tea before bed are OK, unless they make you pee too much at night (check above).
  • Relax
With a precious baby growing in your belly, expectation and maybe worries about the upcoming delivery and newborn baby: it could take less to keep a mom-to-be awake at night.

There are a few simple relaxation techniques you can use to help you relax and fall asleep more easily.

Also, do not hesitate to talk about you worries with your partner, family or friends. Consider a local pregnancy information group or ask your doctor for extra information about delivery and baby.

Knowing more will make you feel more prepared and help you relax better.

Pregnancy fatigue an get make the first weeks or months of your pregnancy quite tough. It can even make you wonder how you will ever make it to the end.

But keep courage, rest and sleep as much as you can and things will start looking better.

Check this Pregnancy Friend website for loads of good information on pregnancy and giving birth.