Being tired seems like a right of passage as a new mom. You’re on a totally new schedule, up to feed/change/burp/shush and repeat every couple of hours (if you’re lucky, ha) and in the midst of crazy hormone changes, getting to know your baby and learning many new skills.
In this transitional time, it can be hard to judge how you’re feeling. Beyond the initial weeks, you’re still going to be fatigued, probably for months to come. But how tired should you be? What’s normal? What’s not?
It’s understandable that you’re going to feel tired, exhausted at times, but constant exhaustion or feeling more out of sorts than you think you should, could be a sign that something deeper is going on.
Yes, a new baby is going to make you tired and our cultural expectations of what new moms are capable of are simply absurd. With that in mind, let’s explore what postpartum fatigue is and what some solutions are.
What is Postpartum Fatigue? Is it normal?
Postpartum fatigue is simply a way of saying... you’re tired! Birthing a human into the world is no small thing, you may already be physically exhausted from the birth process. Labor and birth are physically very demanding and so are all of the expectations and emotions about the process and meeting your baby. You are going to be tired after giving birth, probably exhausted and tested mentally and emotionally in a good way, a bad way, or both!
The first week postpartum is a blur with high emotions - hello hormones and learning to breastfeed. It is normal to need a lot of rest during this time. The only expectations you should have for yourself are getting to know your baby and responding to their needs (which means you’ll be breastfeeding for many hours a day!). That’s it.
But that also means that you need to be fed and stay hydrated and everything else can wait (except maybe if you have older children already!). Postpartum fatigue turns into exhaustion when you are trying to do too much. Going out, shopping, preparing meals and any other housework is someone else’s responsibility. (There are tangible tips to help with this below). Remember that taking care of a brand new baby is a huge job in itself and that the most important thing is that you are resting as much as possible to be able to learn what your new little one needs.
What causes Postpartum Fatigue?
Postpartum fatigue is thanks to broken sleep and high emotions along with needing to meet another person’s needs 24/7. Feeling tired and overwhelmed is normal, to an extent. If you are feeling like you’re under a pressing weight, if you’re sad, apathetic or feeling numb for more than a couple of days, it’s best to seek support through a qualified health care practitioner. In this study, women who experienced fatigue for the first 7 days postpartum (without feeling the high of love and/or adrenaline with a new baby) were more likely to develop postpartum depression. That being said, being tired is, unfortunately, a very normal part of parenthood!
Solutions for Postpartum Fatigue
The first solution, which will vary by family and circumstance, is having support. Your job is to take care of the baby, and that’s it! If you don’t have the support of family or friends then hiring a postpartum doula, cleaner or getting a meal delivery service are good options. A good low-cost way to have ready-made food is to set up a meal train with friends and family and leave a cooler at your door so that they can simply drop off the food & not come in (unless you want them to, of course!)
Now here’s the key with support. People are not coming over to help with the baby. They are there to help YOU and your house. To feed you, take out the garbage, do the dishes and laundry. Unless you need to sleep or have a shower, holding the baby is not helpful!
If this is your first child, you’ll probably have very different expectations of what’s going to get done in those first weeks then what will become your reality. The advice of getting one thing done a day is very real and perhaps you also need to chat with your partner about expectations and division of responsibility. Be gentle with yourself and leave lots of room to figure out what will work for you and your family when your baby is here.
Chip Away at Sleep Debt
Sleep will change drastically when you have a newborn and will continue to change over the first year. Getting a solid night’s rest may not be an option so the cliche is true to sleep when the baby sleeps - or if that isn’t possible, still rest when you can. Resting in small chunks will become your reality, and that’s okay! Most postpartum fatigue comes from the change in sleep patterns and the lack of sleep! As tempting as it can be to do other things, prioritizing sleep is so important.
Simplify Everything Else
Take advantage of small things like online grocery delivery, stock up on supplies like toilet paper and laundry detergent and set up bills to be paid automatically. Delegate and automate anything you can. It may only take 2 minutes to pay a bill, but it’s mental energy you don’t need to spend with a newborn.
Seek Professional Support & Meet-Up Groups
Meet-up groups and mama support groups can be an amazing way to connect with others that are going through the same things and facing the same challenges you are. Postpartum fatigue can be isolating and frustrating, but knowing that others are right alongside you is validating and encouraging. Of course, never be afraid to talk to a doctor, naturopath or someone qualified in postpartum care with how you’re feeling and to find out what resources are available to you, especially if you think your symptoms are interfering with your ability to take care of your baby and yourself.
Is Postpartum Fatigue Linked to Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum fatigue is usually a normal occurrence after having a baby that can last for many months. Postpartum Depression (PPD) is not normal and not something that will go away on its own.
This study found that postpartum fatigue in the first week of your baby’s life was linked to a higher instance of PPD, another study showed that fatigue on day 14 postpartum had the highest correlation to PPD symptoms at 28 days postpartum. Mothers with a history of depression are also more likely to experience PPD. Both of these studies looked at PPD symptoms in the early weeks of pregnancy, but they can come up at anytime in the first year postpartum.
Just because you are tired after baby’s arrival does not mean you’ll get postpartum depression.
When Should I See A Doctor?
You know yourself best and it is always a good idea to reach out if you feel something is off. Of course having a baby is a big change, regardless of whether it’s your first child or not, and there are many physical, emotional and other changes that come with that. If you are feeling out of sorts, apathetic or are catching yourself thinking about things that scare you, reach out. If you are not feeling capable of taking care of your baby, let your support systems know and reach out to your doctor.
In our culture, there is not enough support or awareness around the postpartum period and it can help to remember that while your baby may be new to the world, you are a brand new mom too! When in doubt, always reach out for help.
Postpartum fatigue is one of the most common experiences we have as mothers, it can be hard to manage in a lot of ways but always remember to prioritize rest and that you WILL find new sense of normal in the months to come. Be compassionate with yourself, let your expectations go and focus on doing the tiny things that help you feel your best.
Bozoky I, Corwin E. Fatigue as a Predictor of Postpartum Depression. Online. JOGNN Volume 31, Issue 4 July 2002.
Corwin J Brownstead J, Barton N, Heckard S, Morin K. The impact of fatigue on the development of postpartum depression. Online. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2005 Sep-Oct;34(5):577-86.