Pregnancy is all about changes, and some are more dramatic than others. Along with all the physical changes happening to your body, you may also be experiencing symptoms like mood swings, swelling, nausea or morning sickness, to name a few. So, it can be easy to overlook something as straightforward as fatigue.

But as you may be finding out, fatigue can be quite a challenge, too. Below, we cover everything you can expect from this common pregnancy symptom, its causes, and what you can do to manage it.

What does pregnancy fatigue feel like?

Fatigue is totally normal during pregnancy, but people’s experiences with it can vary widely. It may be that you don’t experience much fatigue at all, or it may be that you feel extreme tiredness in early pregnancy that drops off later on. No matter how it affects you, fatigue can generally be characterized by:

  • Difficulty getting up in the morning
  • Daily tasks becoming harder to complete
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Constant tiredness throughout the day
  • Irritability

What causes fatigue during pregnancy?

There are various factors that can cause fatigue, but they differ from trimester to trimester.

First trimester fatigue

In the first trimester, pregnancy fatigue can start as soon as one week after conception, which means it may be an early sign of pregnancy before a test can tell you for sure. The overall cause is simple – your body is preparing for the months ahead. But there are a couple parts of this preparation that can really contribute to feelings of fatigue:

  • Hormone changes: There are a lot of hormone changes that happen in early pregnancy. One of them, a big jump in progesterone levels, has been directly linked to fatigue. The emotional ups and downs that come with hormone changes can be tiring, too.
  • Metabolic changes: Creation takes energy. And in addition to a fetus, your body is making a placenta and extra blood. All these things create a greater demand for energy and may be partly why you feel the urge to sleep more.

Second trimester fatigue

In the second trimester, people typically find that they have more energy – you may be used to the new hormone levels in your body, and your baby isn’t very big yet. But it’s still possible to feel fatigued in the second trimester, especially if your sleep gets interrupted by pregnancy symptoms like frequent urination and leg cramps.

Third trimester fatigue

When fatigue happens in the third trimester, it’s generally because the baby’s gotten bigger. Carrying around that extra weight can be tiring on its own, but it also makes other things harder, including sleeping comfortably. Plus, as the baby settles into the pelvis, it puts more pressure on the bladder, so nighttime trips to the bathroom may become even more common. And all of that is in addition to any other pregnancy symptoms you’re experiencing.

Tips for managing pregnancy fatigue

When it comes to managing fatigue, the best thing you can do is take steps to increase your energy levels. This means:

Stay on top of your nutrition

A solid pregnancy diet can be a great way to keep your energy up. In particular, focus on getting enough iron, which supports red blood cell production and prevents any additional tiredness from anemia (a condition which results from not having enough red blood cells to carry the amount of oxygen your body needs). Foods that are high in protein are also good choices, as protein is a longer-lasting source of energy compared to carbohydrates.

You may benefit from eating smaller meals throughout the day. This can help keep your blood sugar and energy levels consistent. It’s also important to drink plenty of water, as water helps your body function properly.

Exercise

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week while you’re pregnant. That may sound like a lot, but if you break it down into 30 minutes of pregnancy-safe exercises per day, it adds up quickly.

Exercise improves blood circulation, which helps bring oxygen to every part of your body. This can give a boost to overall energy levels. Plus, exercise helps manage other pregnancy symptoms like back pain and constipation.

Rest

Even if you’re doing everything you can to boost your energy levels, you still have to listen to your body. And when your body is fatigued, rest is the answer. Take breaks throughout the day, nap when you need to and sleep as much as possible. It may help to go to bed earlier, and avoiding fluids for a few hours before going to bed can help cut down on bathroom visits at night.

When should I see my doctor or midwife about fatigue during pregnancy?

Fatigue is very common and normal during pregnancy. Still, don’t hesitate to talk to your care provider at any point along your prenatal appointment timeline if you have questions or concerns about your level of tiredness.

But keep in mind, there are times when fatigue may be a symptom of a pregnancy complication like anemia, depression or gestational diabetes. Call your care provider if you experience sudden fatigue, fatigue that completely stops you from doing your daily tasks or if you have fatigue with any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Pain in the chest, abdomen or head
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling in your hands, ankles or feet
  • Vision changes

Get the care you need

Whether your pregnancy is making you tired, nauseous or anything else, a prenatal appointment can help. In addition to making sure you and your little one are safe and healthy, your care provider can give you tips and recommendations for every part of your pregnancy.