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Pregnancy & Mental Fatigue

January 3rd, 2019


Pregnancy Excitement

Congratulations -- you’re pregnant! This can be one of the most exciting times of your entire life. Whether your journey to conception was long or short, planned or unplanned, natural or with the help of modern medicine, all women experience similar physical and mental aches, pains, and joys.

It’s Not All Exciting

Although pregnancy comes with excitement, it also comes with a lot of other emotions. Women who are pregnant for the first time will most likely be in tune with every single changing aspect of their bodies and minds. While women who are busy chasing around toddlers and other children may forget half the time they are even pregnant. Both types of women will experience some, if not all, of the following emotions:

  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Exhaustion
  • Worry
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loss of control
  • Loss of self

All of the above-listed emotions associated with pregnancy can and will most likely contribute to mental fatigue.

Fatigue vs. Mental Fatigue

We all know what fatigue is, right? If you have to think about it, you are probably experiencing some type of fatigue yourself. Many of us think we are experiencing general fatigue when we are really mentally fatigued. Here are the differences:

  • Fatigue
    • The general feeling of being tired
    • Can come from a lack of sleep, working overtime, constant busyness, chasing children, etc.
    • Fortunately, general fatigue can be overcome by resting
  • Mental Fatigue
    • Exhaustion from constant and extended periods of cognitive activity
    • Results in a decrease in cognitive performance
How is Mental Fatigue Different During Pregnancy?

How is Mental Fatigue Different During Pregnancy?

For the average person suffering from mental fatigue, it is easier to overcome exhaustion with a little rest and relaxation. For women who are pregnant, it is not as easy. When you are growing another human being in your body, the combination of hormonal changes and physical changes can seemingly alter the functioning of the brain. As important as it may be to rest during pregnancy, this may not always fully clear the mental fog.

Some signs of mental fatigue during pregnancy might include:

  • Low energy
  • Forgetfulness
  • Not as alert
  • Constant state of fogginess

Causes of Mental Fatigue During Pregnancy

The mental exhaustion caused as a result of being pregnant can come from a variety of factors that are specific to being pregnant:

  1. Hormone levels
    1. According to Louann Brizendine, MD, who is the director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic at UCSF,
      1. “There is 15 to 40 times more progesterone and estrogen marinating the brain during pregnancy”
      2. “These hormones affect all kinds of neurons in the brain. By the time the woman delivers, there are huge surges of oxytocin that cause the uterus and the body to produce milk -- and they also affect the brain circuits.”
  2. Sleep issues
    1. Restless sleep
    2. Lack of sleep
  3. Stress
    1. Worries about pregnancy-related issues
    2. Worries about the anticipation of the delivery
    3. Worries about breastfeeding
    4. Worries about the reality of having a baby
  4. Maintaining your life
    1. Keeping up with the pressures of your career while pregnant
    2. Keeping up with your other children while pregnant

What is Pregnancy Brain?

Many people in today’s culture blame pregnancy-related mishaps on the “pregnancy brain”. It has become the common language to associate women’s forgetfulness and mindlessness with this phenomenon. The pregnancy brain is essentially the same as mental fatigue during pregnancy. The forgetfulness, the fog, the overall exhaustion of the mind are all descriptors of both epidemics.

Mental Fatigue During Pregnancy can Lead to...

There can be some long-term effects associated with mental fatigue during pregnancy. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
    • Feelings of stress, worry, and concern
    • Being overwhelmed by
      • The uncertainty of having a baby
      • The uncertainty of how life will change
    • Never getting everything done
    • The notion of life never being the same as you knew it before
  • Depression
    • Persistent negative thoughts and emotions about oneself and their surroundings
      • During pregnancy
        • Sadness associated with loneliness and constant change
        • 14-23% of women suffer from symptoms of depression during pregnancy
      • Post pregnancy
        • Postpartum Depression (PPD)
          • Feelings of depression after childbirth which impacts a woman’s mood and consequent care for herself and her family
          • 1 in 7 women suffer from PPD
  • Insomnia
    • The inability to fall asleep and stay asleep
    • Can develop after the routine of waking up multiple times a night with your child
    • Babies and kids are bound to wake up
      • Newborns wake up every 2-3 hours during the night for feedings
      • After the newborn phase, infants and toddlers struggle with daytime and nighttime sleep patterns, teething, separation anxiety, and night terrors
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    • The fixation and repetition of thoughts and behaviors as a means of seeking control and coping with other issues
      • The loss of control of your life
      • Anxieties of being a parent
  • Relationship Issues
    • The stress and gravity of taking care of a human may create a barrier between you and your partner
    • Disagreements about parenting styles

Tips for Overcoming Mental Fatigue During Pregnancy

The challenges of pregnancy combined with the anxieties of life with a baby are very real. It is crucial to try and ease the exhaustion by taking care of yourself and the human you are growing inside. Try some of these tips as a way to be kind to yourself during this miraculous time.

  1. Listen to your body
    1. Rest when you are tired
    2. Go to bed early
    3. Sleep in, if you can
  2. Make lists
  3. Don’t compare yourself to other pregnant women
  4. Drink plenty of fresh water
  5. Eat well balanced and nutritious meals and snacks
  6. Ask for help
    1. Reach out to friends and family for help with errands and meals
    2. Seek professional advice if you are suffering from a mood disorder or other issues


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