It gets better during the second trimester and then comes back with a vengeance right before your due date. There is no question that extreme fatigue is a normal part of pregnancy, but how do you cope with it?
What causes pregnancy fatigue?
You may have noticed a common thread in many of the most frequently seen pregnancy symptoms: despite the fact that amazing interventions are now possible in the sphere of reproduction, we're still not sure what causes these symptoms. Pregnancy fatigue is, like morning sickness and pregnancy cravings, still a bit of a mystery. Pregnancy hormones are obviously related in some way, but in what way exactly? What's sure is that your body is going through a whole lot of changes during the first trimester. You just conceived a baby, and your body is now jumping into year to sustain that new life for roughly 40 weeks.
Your blood volume is increasing, your uterus is growing, and your breasts will start preparing for nursing. Your baby is growing at an amazing rate and the placenta will soon be functioning too. Hard work is going on, and that requires energy. When you think about it, it's really no wonder that you can't get through the day without a nap or that you get really emotional when you push through despite the fatigue. In the third trimester, your body is carrying a lot of weight around. You are also preparing to care for a newborn. Tiny little babies wake through the night, and your body may just be getting you ready for the challenge by giving you heartburn and insomnia. OK, that's a very unscientific and woo-sounding "theory", but there may be some truth to it.
What you can do to fight fatigue
You've heard it exercise regularly and make sure you get plenty of fresh air. You know what? Exercise in the fresh air if you can. This may give you a little more energy, but it is good for your body and mind even if it doesn't. Eating those smaller meals frequently will keep your blood sugar levels steady, thereby reducing your morning sickness and perhaps your fatigue. Fresh fruits and veggies give you the vitamins and minerals you need, and are an essential part of your prenatal diet. Carbohydrates and proteins are important too. Blablabla... all that healthy, good stuff that your body needs... blablabla... definitely do it.
But you're still tired, aren't you? You find yourself nearly falling asleep during that meeting at work, you can't stay up past 10 pm, and you are not certain it is safe for you to drive. Any woman who has suffered from heavy pregnancy fatigue during a previous pregnancy knows that this exercise, fresh air, good nutrition and (not to forget!) staying hydrated may help a little, but not enough. The key to getting through your first trimester fatigue may not be fighting it, after all. Coping is all you really can do. My advice is to take it easy and to do so without an ounce of guilt. We may not know the exact cause behind that fatigue, but it is real and rooted in biology somehow. Put your feet up, delegate at work, get your other half to look after the house, and order take-out meals. Most of all, take that nap if you can, and head to bed early at night.
Third trimester fatigue may be a little harder to simply roll with, because it is often caused by sleepless nights and those really get you down. I used to write articles at night and bake cakes, simply so I could do something productive if I was going to be up anyway. During the day, I would take it easier.
Is it really just fatigue?
Prenatal care is an important part of any pregnancy, and I hope you have a truly great OBGYN or midwife on board. It is good to discuss your experience with your healthcare provider in detail, even if you are sure that you are just experiencing normal pregnancy signs and symptoms. Why do I mention that in the context of fatigue? As is often the case with normal pregnancy signs, they can sometimes be a symptom of a complication. Anemia can make you especially tired, and it could be hard to tell the difference between normal fatigue and anemia. If you feel weak and dizzy as well as tired, then say so. Depression is another possible cause of extra heavy fatigue, so be sure to mention any black thoughts you have too. Hypothyroidism can also be responsible. It's your job to tell your healthcare provider all about your symptoms, and then prenatal blood work and diagnostic tests will provide additional answers when they might be needed. Mind you, don't panic. The chances are that you really are just tired, and that you'll soon feel better.