Caring for a newborn is hard work. There is zero doubt about that fact. It is exhausting. At some point though, that tired feeling can morph into postpartum fatigue. But exactly what is postpartum fatigue and how is it different from the typical bleary-eyed newborn parent stage?
“We hear about PMADS, or postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, but we rarely hear about PPF, postpartum fatigue. While they are frequently experienced in tandem, they are defined differently and don’t always come as a package,” doula and birthing expert Sara Lyon tells Romper. “Postpartum fatigue includes extreme exhaustion, lack of mental clarity, and decreased ability to interact in normal physical activities. If this sounds super common, it’s because it is — the majority of women will experience postpartum fatigue in the days and months after giving birth.”
Postpartum Fatigue, Explained
Think about it this way: You just spent nine months growing a baby inside of your womb. It was hard work. Then, you gave birth. More hard work. Now, you’re taking care of a newborn around the clock. So. Much. Hard. Work. During the post-birth recovery period, your body — which has already been put through the ringer — is now working hard to get back to its baseline. (Or, whatever that will look like now that you’ve birthed a human.) That takes time and effort.
Every person who has just given birth will experience some level of postpartum fatigue, Shepherd explains. This is pretty standard. However, the intensity of fatigue can vary from person to person. “Some studies show that women reporting depression, anxiety, and sleep issues as well as those who are breastfeeding, are at significant risk for extreme fatigue,” Shepherd tells Romper. “Other factors impacting fatigue levels include the mother's age and the number of children she's caring for.” (Anyone who has chased a toddler around days after giving birth can attest to this.)
“Even the length of labor and perineal pain can contribute to postpartum fatigue,” Shepherd continues. “When you feel fatigued, you also may feel weak, weary, sleepy, or dizzy.”
The effects of postpartum fatigue can contribute to further complications, and even impact your ability to breastfeed successfully, Shepherd says. Staying hydrated while breastfeeding is of the utmost importance, and it’s also crucial for your body’s post-birth recovery. “Proper nutrition and hydration is essential when you're recovering from giving birth,” Shepherd explains. “But when dealing with fatigue, you may not be nourishing your body properly which can make matters worse.”
Additionally, postpartum fatigue can become chronic over time and new moms can develop symptoms like poor concentration, memory, and mood swings. “Chronic fatigue can lead to postnatal depletion so new mothers should focus on rebuilding their health and energy,” says Shepherd.
How To Cope With Postpartum Fatigue
Unfortunately, there’s no universal way to beat postpartum fatigue. Symptoms of exhaustion typically get better with time, but you can also help your body recover by prioritizing rest, proper nutrition, hydration, exercise (ugh, I know), and asking for help when you need it.
“Because most complications of postpartum fatigue are psychiatric, usually experienced concurrently with postpartum depression or anxiety, most treatment is psychiatric,” Lyon tells Romper. “From a holistic perspective, psychiatric treatment alone doesn’t address the root causes of postpartum fatigue, like physical depletion of blood, tissue healing after a complicated labor, coming off of the many medications involved in most hospital births, and psychological processing of birth trauma.”
To prepare for the potential consequences of postpartum fatigue, Lyon recommends planning ahead of giving birth. “Plan for a better postpartum experience by preparing your home and your social network to support you,” says Lyon. “Instead of stocking your gift registry with baby gear, add UberEats gift certificates, or use my favorite registry site Be Her Village to request postpartum doula hours, expert massages, or even specialized postpartum meals for recovery.”
Of course, sleep can make a world of difference postpartum. “I know it can be hard, but try to get as much rest as possible,” Shepherd tells Romper. “The age-old advice of sleeping when the baby sleeps can work wonders here.” Shepherd also recommends eating nutrient-rich foods and staying hydrated to help combat fatigue, as well as going for short walks once your doctor clears the activity. “Exercise also can help boost your energy level and your mood,” she says. “Even just a short walk with the stroller out in the fresh air can feel good. But don't overdo it and use up all your energy.”
Shepherd explains that when you’re experiencing postpartum fatigue, you can start to “feel isolated, slightly depressed, anxious, and suffer from a loss of self-esteem, which can be overwhelming.” If you’re exhausted to the point where you can’t complete basic self-care activities like bathing and eating, it’s important to reach out to a trusted medical professional. “When this interferes with daily life it can be of concern for postpartum depression and, on the rare occasion, postpartum psychosis,” she says. “This is when professional medical help is recommended.”
Dr. Jessica Shepherd, MD, OBGYN, Chief Medical Officer of Verywell Health