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Postpartum Fatigue: What It Is and How to Beat "New Mom Exhaustion"

by Vannessa Rhoades 25 Jan 2023
Postpartum Fatigue: What It Is and How to Beat "New Mom Exhaustion"

Pregnancy and childbirth can wreak havoc your body. Combined with the additional stress of taking care of a brand-new baby (and the accompanying lack of sleep), it’s no wonder new mothers feel tired. Postpartum fatigue, also known as “new mom exhaustion,” is incredibly common. According to research, almost 90% of women who experience vaginal birth report feelings of extreme fatigue during the postpartum period. Some women (one study estimates as many as 11%) have persistent feelings of fatigue even through the third month postpartum.

Though some degree of fatigue is expected for any new caregiver, it doesn’t mean you have to simply grin and bear it. There are strategies to help cope with new mom exhaustion. Let’s take a look at what you should know about the symptoms and causes of new mom exhaustion, how to fight it, and when to call your doctor.

New Mom Exhaustion: Symptoms and Causes

In addition to the physical demands on your body during the birthing process, sleep deprivation and the constant vigilance of caring for a new baby can exhaust a new parent. Research indicates that women who experience depression, anxiety, and sleep issues, along with those who are nursing are at high risk for extreme postpartum fatigue. Duration of labor and prolonged perineal pain can be factors in increasing postpartum fatigue as well.

Various medical problems can trigger new mom exhaustion symptoms. If you believe your fatigue may be caused by something more than lack of sleep, it’s essential to consult your physician. Common medical issues that may cause postpartum fatigue include

  • iron deficiency (anemia)
  • postpartum depression
  • drug use (even prescription pain medicines)
  • extensive blood loss

When postpartum depression is the cause of a new mom’s exhaustion, she may also experience intense crying, sleep loss, feelings of worthlessness, and extreme mood swings. If you suspect this may be an issue, contact your healthcare provider. They can help you figure out what is causing your exhaustion and help you start feeling like yourself again.

New Mom Exhaustion: How to Cope

Postpartum fatigue may leave you feeling frail, drowsy, or light-headed. Fatigue also can interfere with successful nursing and affect your ability to properly function and bond with your baby. Consider these strategies for fighting postpartum exhaustion after labor and delivery.

Prioritize rest and comfort 

“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is one of the oldest and wisest pieces of advice available. Don’t use the time to catch up on laundry. Head to bed early in the evenings, and take a nap every chance you get. Try to relax as much as possible during feeding sessions. Prop your feet up, support your arms with pillows, or nurse lying down. Though it certainly doesn’t feel like it in the moment, remember that your fatigue and the newborn phase won’t last forever. As your infant gets older and starts to sleep longer, you’ll be able to rest more.

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Enlist assistance

Ask your partner, family, or friends to help out around the house or with older children. If well-wishers call wanting to help, give them a specific chore. Ask for help with a load of laundry or unloading the dishwasher. Maybe they can pick up dinner for you. Perhaps they can simply hold your little one while you shower. 

Make peace with a messy house

Now is not the time for you to mop the floors or scrub bathroom tiles. Let it wait until you’ve healed or get help from someone else. If you do have to engage in small chores around the house, try to cluster tasks together. Do a quick toilet scrub after you use the bathroom. Load the dishwasher while you’re heating up a bowl of soup. You’ll use less energy and be more likely to rest with your baby (instead of feeling guilty about not folding a load of towels during naptime).

Minimize the number of guests

New babies are super popular, and everyone wants to hang out with them. An exhausted new parent, however, is not generally up for doing much entertaining. Family and friends who can help you out with a few chores or keep an eye on the baby while you sleep are worth their weight in gold. But guests who need you to cook and care for them should probably wait a while before visiting. It’s perfectly polite to let out-of-town visitors know that you’re fatigued and that their visit will be better spent in a month or so once you’ve had a chance to recuperate.

Get moving

Talk to your healthcare provider about engaging in light exercises, like walking. If they give you the green light, take a short stroll with your baby. Exercise can actually help elevate your mood and energy level. Taking in a little fresh air can give you a boost as well. Just be sure not to overdo it. Start with something small and light, but get yourself moving. As time goes on and your body has a chance to heal, you can begin to engage in more strenuous levels of exercise. For now, though, start slow. 

Eat well and hydrate

Drinking plenty of water and eating healthy food are vital to the healing process. Eat a nutritious, balanced diet to maintain your energy levels. A nursing parent will require additional calories (at least 300kcal) so be sure to consume high-protein snacks throughout the day. Drink plenty of fluids, but limit caffeine intake (though it’s tempting when you’re tired). Continue taking your prenatal vitamins until you have recovered or until your healthcare provider advises you to discontinue them, especially if you are nursing.

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When to Contact Your Physician

If you’re having trouble managing your exhaustion and still find yourself with no energy even when you’ve had plenty of rest, are eating well, and drinking plenty of water, talk to your doctor. They can help you figure out if something more may be behind your symptoms. If you suspect you may be experiencing postpartum depression, talk to your doctor about that, too. Treatment is available and can have you feeling better and back to your old self.

The Bottom Line

It’s perfectly normal to feel exhausted after having a baby. Recovering from labor and delivery and caring for a newborn, along with lactating and nursing around the clock requires massive amounts of energy. Figure in housework, taking care of your other kids, and stressing about work, it’s easy to see how one can feel overwhelmed and completely fatigued. The good news is that there are healthy ways to manage that exhaustion and increase your energy levels. Get help and allow yourself time to recuperate. Eat right, drink plenty of water, and rest as much as possible so that you can heal and better care for yourself and your new baby.

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