Fatigue in Pregnancy

If during the first trimester you feel as though you are running on fumes rather than a full tank of supreme, you’re not alone. Nine out of ten women feel tired to flat-out exhausted during the first few months of pregnancy. Many are tired from the moment they open their eyes in the morning, and often rest does little to energize them. Most of these women have never experienced fatigue until now. The good news is the fatigue is usually followed by a burst of energy during the second trimester.


Although the exact cause of first-trimester fatigue is poorly understood, there are a few commonsense theories. The rapid and unique storm of physiological changes that sets in within minutes to weeks after conception diverts your body’s attention and probably leaves little energy for normal chores. For example, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to set up the nutritional processing plant – that is, the placenta – for your baby.

In addition, progesterone, the female hormone responsible for many of the physical changes during early pregnancy, also has a sedative effect. Finally, sleep disturbances, nausea, vomiting, and mood swings may contribute to fatigue. Granted, a wanted pregnancy and a positive attitude probably help more than they hinder energy levels, but fatigue is not necessarily caused by deep-seated confusion about having a baby.

Fatigue happens to the most willing and eager mothers, while some women with unwanted pregnancies sail through the first trimester with little change in their energy level. In other words, don’t let anyone tell you “it’s all in your head.” In fact, preliminary evidence shows that the fatigue often is related to nausea and psychological changes triggered by hormones, including depression, anger, anxiety, and confusion.

Dealing with Pregnancy Fatigue

There are no magic pills for fatigue, but you can curb the energy drain by eating well, exercising when possible, and listening and responding to your body’s needs. Not surprisingly, one study found that women who entered pregnancy in good physical condition and with good stamina, regardless of age, reported less problem with fatigue in early pregnancy.

To fuel your energy rather than your fatigue, avoid sugary foods and caffeinated beverages, which are a temporary quick fix and usually leave you feeling even more tired in the long run. Instead, try to eat every four hours, include a grain and a fruit or vegetable at each meal or snack, always eat breakfast, and drink plenty of fluids.

In addition, take an afternoon nap (even if you have to close your office door and take the phone off the hook), go to bed early, and pamper yourself whenever possible. If your fatigue lingers beyond the first trimester, is accompanied by pallor or dizziness, or seriously affects your daily routine, consult with your physician about a blood test for iron status.