Pregnancy is often described as ‘a bit like climbing a mountain with a heavy backpack, without having done any training first!’ No wonder then that tiredness is incredibly common during pregnancy, and it can be a difficult problem to tackle, especially when life still has to carry on as normal and you have older children and / or a job to juggle too.
Here we take a quick look at what causes tiredness in pregnancy, followed by five simple steps you can take to help protect and improve your energy levels.
Why does pregnancy make you tired?
First trimester (weeks 1 – 12): Significant hormonal changes during the first twelve weeks can leave you feeling emotional, nauseous and exhausted.
Second trimester (weeks 13 – 26): As pregnancy continues into the second trimester, emotions and sickness often settle down but tiredness can persist as baby gets first call on any nutrients he or she needs. Extra energy is needed during pregnancy for the growth and maintenance of the foetus, placenta and maternal tissues, and energy requirements are high during this time, which can leave you feeling drained. The energy requirements during pregnancy are greatest during weeks 10 – 30 of gestation when relatively large amounts of maternal fat are deposited. Your body’s metabolism increases significantly yet your blood sugar and blood pressure tend to be lower.
Third trimester (weeks 27 – 40): Later on, as you enter the third trimester, you need extra energy just to meet the demands of moving a heavier maternal body around; your baby’s energy needs are high too as he or she continues to grow. Sleepless nights are a common cause of tiredness during this stage affecting about 75% of women from about 33 weeks onwards. There are a few different reasons for this: practically it can become a challenge just to find a comfy position in bed and frequent trips to the toilet, leg cramps and heartburn can impact sleep too. Worries about the birth are also common at this stage, which can get in the way of a good night’s sleep too.
Quick guide to increased energy during pregnancy:
1) Get your iron levels checked – Iron deficiency anaemia is more common in pregnancy, and can cause symptoms of extreme tiredness. Your iron levels will normally be checked routinely throughout your pregnancy as part of your antenatal care. Keep in mind though that if you are deficient and need to take a supplement, some forms of iron are not well tolerated and can make gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, which is already common in pregnancy (affecting up to 50% of women), even worse. Iron bisglycinate is an alternative form that is highly bioavailable and gentle on the gastrointestinal tract.
2) Get more rest – It sounds obvious but is still worth hammering home the point that being pregnant places huge energy demands on your body and you will likely need extra rest to cope. Going to bed earlier, having an afternoon nap, working less or even just having a regular day off for some all important self-care should ideally be incorporated into your routine whilst pregnant.
3) Eat to balance your blood sugar – Having 4-5 smaller meals is often the best way to keep your blood sugar and energy balanced whilst pregnant. Remember too that you will need to eat more overall to meet increased energy requirements. A diet rich in wholefoods such as fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates such as oats and rye, lean protein such as chicken, fish, beans and lentils and healthy fats from nuts and seeds is essential to keep your blood sugar and your energy balanced during pregnancy. Blood sugar dips can wake you up in the night too, so it’s worth having a complex snack before bed – oatcakes topped with nut butter and sliced banana is perfect for before-bed blood sugar balance.
4) Avoid energy drainers – Many reach for a caffeine fix (tea/coffee) or a sugary snack when energy plummets during pregnancy however whilst these might give you a bit of a boost initially, they tend to make energy problems even worse overall. Avoid tea and coffee, and sugary drinks and snacks, and instead reach for a complex snack such as an apple and a handful of nuts as this will not only give you longer lasting energy but will provide crucial nutrients for you and your baby too.
5) Optimise your nutrient intake - Take a high quality daily multivitamin that is specially designed to meet your increased nutrient needs during pregnancy. You need plenty of B vitamins and magnesium to make energy during pregnancy so make sure your pregnancy multi contains good levels of these key nutrients.
Make the most of this special time
Becoming pregnant is often one of the happiest times in a woman’s life. Understanding the changes that are happening in your body and how you can best support them is important during pregnancy and can help you to make the most of this special time. For more information on the key nutrients you need during pregnancy, not just for energy but to support a healthy birth, promote breast milk production and to help reduce the risk of pregnancy-related problems such as leg swelling and pre-eclampsia, click here.
Nutrition During Pregnancy: Part I Weight Gain: Part II Nutrient Supplements
Institute of medicine (US) committee on nutritional status during pregnancy and lactation. Washington (DC) National Academies Press (US) 1990
Chapter 7) Energy requirements, energy intake, and associated weight gain during pregnancy