Are you feeling exhausted after giving birth? Postpartum fatigue is no joke. Not only has your body been through a lot—having grown and delivered to a human baby—but managing your infant’s and your own care in those first weeks and months can be both physically and emotionally draining.
What is postpartum fatigue?
You might’ve expected to be more tired than usual as you care for your new babe, but postpartum fatigue is described as extreme tiredness and lack of energy that can’t easily be fixed with a little extra rest. Postpartum fatigue can be manageable, but is also linked to feelings of anxiety, depression, stress and—very unhelpfully—difficulty sleeping.
What causes postpartum fatigue?
Whether you’re a first-time parent or have welcomed another baby to the family, the transition can be really tiring and you may find your attention and concentration isn’t as sharp as it once was. There are so many changes that happen in the maternal brain during pregnancy and postpartum that can affect cognition. So it’s not uncommon to feel these effects even if you manage a nap or a solid night of sleep (though it does help!).
Infant feeding can also contribute to postpartum fatigue. Worrying about milk production and supplying baby with enough milk can increase anxiety, stress and fatigue. The process of baby-feeding alone is tiring and more so if you’re pumping regularly in addition to bottle-feeding or chest/breastfeeding. The hormone prolactin is highest in the middle of the night (around 2 a.m.), which means this is when milk supply is at its highest. It’s the best time to feed or pump in order to empty your stores (which tells the body to make more milk for a refill!). But waking in the middle of the night to pump, especially if your infant is still sleeping, can be really difficult and gets in the way of your precious sleep hours.
How long does postpartum fatigue last?
For some parents, those first few weeks are the most challenging, and for others, feelings of postpartum fatigue can last for up to a year and a half! If you had a particularly difficult childbirth, including the need for medical interventions, a caesarean section, long labour, or bleeding, it can amplify these feelings as you recover.
How to combat postpartum fatigue?
One of the best tools for combating postpartum fatigue is exercise! It may sound counterintuitive to be burning energy when you’re already so tired, but the physiological benefits of exercise work to reduce general fatigue and improve sleep.
In one study, doing 15 minutes of at-home aerobic gymnastic exercise three times a week led to significant improvements in fatigue after just four weeks. It led to lower feelings of perceived stress and physical fatigue.
In another study, those who participated in 30 minutes of Pilates five times a week had lower fatigue scores than those who didn’t. This regular exercise over two months significantly improved physical and mental fatigue as well as motivation.
A Canadian study of postpartum fatigue found that doing aerobic, stretching and strengthening exercises over 12 weeks significantly decreased physical and mental fatigue.
Fatigue can also be related to red blood cell factors like low iron and hemoglobin, so make sure to speak to your doctor if you have concerns about postpartum fatigue. They might suggest having some routine bloodwork done.
It’s also recommended to continue taking your prenatal vitamin during this time since your amazing body continues to undergo changes postpartum, and if you’re making and providing chest/breastmilk, it’s even more important since your nutrient supplies also supply your baby. We’ve designed The Postpartum to cover all of your and baby’s needs, with one easy-to-remember sachet per day. Learn more about the 6 Nutrients You (and Baby!) Need in a Postpartum Vitamin.