Fatigue is one of the biggest problems moms struggle with - and it makes every other problem seem much more difficult to face. This guide covers practical steps to fight fatigue and finally feel like the mama you want to be!
The Beauty of Baby Steps
It's probably going to take time to get you back to feeling the way that you want to feel. Overcoming fatigue and feeling vital and energetic is a big project - and big projects usually take baby steps.
If you try to do too much at once, you're likely to get overwhelmed and even more exhausted. Don't try to rush through these steps. Take the steps slowly, working on one small thing at a time.
Go with what your energy level is right now. There are a lot of steps in this article and I've tried to make them each as simple as possible - but because fatigue is a complex thing, it's going to take many of these steps to really start seeing (and feeling) a difference.
As much as I wish there were a magic bullet for fatigue, there's probably not. Each of these steps, however, is a part of the puzzle, and you're going to hit a point where things start to get better and better - and you have more and more energy!
A Word on Pregnancy Fatigue
Pregnancy is the first time many women feel overwhelming, deep-in-the-bones, crushing fatigue. There's a biological reason for this to happen during pregnancy...
...though tiny, your newly-conceived baby is already incredibly complex and going through amazing amounts of growth and development...
...and your body is working hard to adapt to this new little person, set up support systems to keep your baby healthy and growing, and making changes and adaptations to your own body to keep you healthy and vital throughout pregnancy.
That takes a lot of work, even though it's likely to be invisible to everyone else for months.
First-trimester fatigue can be profound, but it's for a reason. You can (and should) go through the steps I outline below as pregnancy-safe, but you should also prioritize rest - you feel tired because your body does need more sleep throughout pregnancy (at first and as you get farther along).
It's likely that first-trimester fatigue will lessen as you move into the second trimester, but expect that you'll need more sleep throughout pregnancy!
Greening Your Clean
I put this as the first "baby step" because I think it's one of the easiest - especially since you don't need to go with it all once!
Here's the truth: we live in a world with a lot of toxins, and our bodies are handling a toxic load even from in the womb...
Sadly, our cleaning products are usually contributing to that toxic load. That includes our laundry cleaning supplies, dish washing supplies, general purpose cleaners, floor cleaners, bathroom cleaning supplies, and more. You may be in a profession that exposes you to chemical cleaners, too.
The good news is, this one is an easy one to work on because it's easy to find replacements to your current cleaning supplies.
I recommend that you baby-step this one over the next several months as you read through the list. Start with *one* cleaning category - I recommend your general purpose cleaner.
You can either experiment with some simple, homemade recipes, or you can try a couple of commercial products and find one that suits you. I'll tell you a secret - one product has been able to replace most of my cleaning products. What is it? The incredible little E-cloth. Check out these two videos I made for my *Feeling Great* students:
I do still us a general purpose cleaner to wipe down my toilet, and for that I use a concentrate from Grove.
After you've gotten the general cleaner down, tackle your dish soap. Try a few natural options until you find one you're really pleased with. Then move on to laundry, bathroom, etc. If you work to replace one chemical cleaner a month, you'll have greened your clean within a year - and kissed the extra toxin load from those products "goodbye!"
What You Need to Know About
Personal Care Products
Personal care products are also often full of chemicals and components that are toxic to our body. Estrogen overloads are common due to the toxin load today - and our personal care and cosmetic products really contribute to that problem.
I recommend you take the same baby steps to changing over personal care products that you are with cleaners. Pick one thing a month to change.
Hand soap is a good place to start in this category. You can choose a natural liquid soap or replace your hand soap with a bar soap. We actually use both - I prefer a bar of natural soap in our bathroom, but we use a liquid soap in the kids' bathroom. It's just easier for little hands! We have both by the kitchen sink.
I actually encourage you to *minimize the amount of soap you use in the shower* - your body doesn't need a lot of soap, which strips away your skin's natural protection. **DO** choose a good natural soap, but save it for underarms and other heavy sweating areas. Rinse the rest of your body with warm water.
Move on to changing over hair products, lotions, lip balm, etc. In the next few months.
Many women don't realize that conventional makeup is full of chemicals. I'll admit that I don't have a lot of expertise in this area (I don't wear makeup!) but I do know that exploring natural, mineral-based makeup options is healthiest for your body. Again, choose one or two products a month to try and swap out. It may be helpful to look for some tutorials on making the most of a small but carefully selected makeup palette - and build that up over time.
Another area to consider is feminine care products. Disposable products are often filled with toxins - consider natural disposable products, or explore options like a menstrual cup (such as the Diva Cup or Moon Cup), "mama cloth" (cloth pads), or even period panties. It took me some time get the hang of a cup, but now I really like it.
(Slowly and Steadily) Fix the Food
Food is medicine - or poison. Cleaning up what you eat can make a dramatic difference in your energy levels, and often works more quickly than the slow process of switching out cleaning/care products and waiting for your body to start clearing toxic loads.
Having said that, food is often one of the most difficult things to change. We tend to eat what we like, and we tend to dislike change. Changing you eat may feel like you're depriving yourself of something you really want - or of something easy when you're already so tired.
That's why baby steps are again the key to making dietary changes.
The first (and biggest) culprit to remove from your diet is sugar. There's so much sugar in the modern diet, and it tends to create dependency, cravings, lowered immune function, extra weight gain, and overall fatigue as the body is bogged down trying to handle it. Excess sugars (and all carbohydrates) actually lead to breakdown of the body in the form of insulin resistance, as well.
Getting rid of sugar seems like a huge step all by itself, however 🙁 I believe the best way to cut down on sugar is to look at two things:
These two questions probably find the biggest sources of sugar (carbohydrate) in your diet. If you use a lot of breads and pastas, those are a big way sugar is getting delivered to your body (remember, carbohydrate = sugar in the body). And many of us like quick, easy snacks that pack a lot of sugar - sugary smoothies, sugary energy bars, sugary Greek yogurt...
...a lot of it is just full of sugar!!
Next I want you to think of two snacks and one lunch that don't depend on all that sugar. Think of things you like. It could be something like a big salad for lunch and a bowlful of frozen berries with heavy cream drizzled on for a snack (the cream hardens into a tasty "shell" for the berries). Just choosing to change up a couple of things can help lower your sugar levels - and both snacks and lunches are something you can probably eat over and over again.
Over time you can cut down on the amount of sugar overall by finding non-sugar filled or carbohydrate-heavy snacks. Don't cut out all the carbohydrates; while fighting fatigue your body may need some quick energy. But going lower on the sugar/carbs will go a long way.
The next step with food is to work on cutting out processed foods and go with more whole-foods ingredients. The lunchtime salad example given above is a good thing to think about - as simple or elaborate as you want, a salad is just veggies tossed together with perhaps some meat or cheese thrown in. Basic but filling foods like meaty chili or fragrant soups (thrown together from scratch - not from a can!) can are further good examples.
Again, work on one meal at a time - finding a collection of favorites... and go for something simple!! Find meals you can throw together with little effort, but are still filling and nourishing.
After finding a few meals that work and gaining confidence it may be a good time to invest in a meal planning service that offers menus centered around the kinds of meals you want. This can free up your time by doing all the planning for you - you just buy the ingredients and follow the directions.
A good next focus is on including lots of healthy fats in your diet, which will nourish your brain, help your body absorb nutrients, and help normalize hormone levels (hormone creation requires healthy fats!)
Another place to explore is food allergies, which can get more overwhelming, but may possibly make a difference. I would start with the basic steps and come back to explore food allergies later if it seems appropriate.
Supplements for Balance
Once you've started healing by cutting out toxins in products you use and giving yourself a clean, nutrient-dense diet, it may be time to consider selective supplementation.
One big problem with fatigue is it can actually make it harder for you to wind down and get restful sleep - supplements may help you both with daytime fatigue and nighttime sleep troubles.
I recommend that you start with a high-quality multi as a basic supplement (my top recommendation is Dr. Ron's UltraPure - take this while pregnant, nursing, or in between!).
Magnesium is another easy supplement to add into your day - you can take a magnesium supplement at night to help your body wind down. It's also beneficial for handling stress.
Probiotics are another supplement to consider - these help improve digestion and gut health and the benefits continue as long as you continue the probiotic. I recommend that you alternate between 2-3 quality supplements to give your body a range of different strains.
Siberian Ginseng is a supplement that's safe for pregnancy and an option to consider for boosting energy. It may also help with insomia.
Licorice is an adaptogenic herb that's nourishing to the adrenals. It is not safe for pregnancy, but you may consider if you're past pregnancy.
Why Movement is Essential
Feeding your body isn't just about what you put in your mouth - it's also about how you move throughout the day.
It's tough when you're already so tired, but it's almost guaranteed that your body will benefit and you'll feel better if you're getting some movement in your day.
You're literally going to start this with steps - with baby steps!
Even if you're in the midst of pregnancy fatigue, getting up and moving a little can really help.
It may feel like it's a big deal right now to go from your bed to your couch, but I actually want you to think a little bigger than that.
I want you to think about walking somewhere outside your house.
To the mailbox and back is an ideal place to start.
Then take things from there - if walking is all you can do, make walking a part of your day, every day. Take ambling, rambling walks with your little ones. Start slow, go easy, and while you're at it - take in the world from their eyes.
Movement is good for your body in so many ways, helping with alignment and balance and keeping your lymph fluid moving, etc. It really does make a difference in how you feel - lowering pain, boosting energy, and more.
Getting Baby to Sleep (so you can sleep)
Sleep is important - for any mama. And most mamas who are struggling with fatigue are not getting enough.
Attachment parenting, conscious parenting, gentle parenting - regardless of what you call it, the trend in parenting today is to go totally baby-led. I'm not arguing that we need to meet our babies' needs... but when sleepless nights go on for months (or years) on end, the whole family starts to suffer - including baby.
It's important to realize that after the first few weeks, you can and should work with your baby's natural rhythms to help him or her fall into healthy sleep patterns.
Baby sleep is a big topic in and of itself - but you can get a jump start on helping your baby discover good sleep habits with my Baby Sleep "crib sheet" (no crib required!).
I honestly believe that it's possible to honor your baby's nighttime needs and your own - because a rested mama is a gift to your baby, your family, and yourself <3
How Routine Really Helps
Sometimes it's hard to make life happen. You end up getting overwhelmed, and everything just gets left aside. The house gets out of control, the kids get out of control, and self-care and healing? Well, those never happen.
You can't overcome fatigue if you feel like you're drowning in the details of every day... and this is where routine comes into play.
Routines can be set up day-by-day, little-by-little, and over time you will go from chaos to clean and you will be able to manage - and find time to take care of yourself, too.
Where should you start with routines? I recommend starting with your kids and with breakfast time. What needs to be done to get everyone up, dressed, and fed in the mornings? Think through what needs to happen - it can be simple at first, but create a routine. What time will you get up? How will you get everyone dressed? What breakfast will you have?
It's okay if it's the same every day. It's okay if beds aren't made. Start with getting dressed and putting dirty clothes in the hamper.
The next routine should probably be a cleaning routine - doing the breakfast dishes is a logical place to start. Another good thing to consider is a laundry routine. Can you put in a load first thing in the morning, and set a timer to move it to the dryer? Then have your kids help you fold - even little ones can fold washcloths and socks. Put each child's clothes into a dishpan and have them carry the dishpan to their dresser or closet.
Routines do take time to build, but they become simple over time (remember, when you first learned to drive it felt very complex, but now it's practically autopilot - routines are like that).
Routines also carry you through the day by removing decisions. You know when it's time for breakfast, time for a walk, and so on. You don't have the stress of making a decision, because the routine has already made the decision for you 😀
Why Attitude Matters
Toxic attitudes sap us of our ability to make changes in our lives. These attitudes create negative voices that tell us we're not worth it, we don't have the energy, we can't do it...
...but the reality is that you can overcome - you can succeed. It may take time and it will take effort, but you can overcome.
Baby steps are the key - and anyone can take a baby step. Even thinking about yourself in a positive light can happen with baby steps.
Think today about one thing - one small thing - you like about yourself. It could be physical, or it could be a character trait. For example - I like the half-smile I have when I grin about something. I like the way I can plan out a project.
Small things can help, even when you feel there's a lot you'd like to change about yourself. Think of one small thing each day, and know that you are worth it. You are worth the effort to make things better for yourself.
You are a good mama, too - think about one small way that you think you're a good mama to your kids. I read my kids books 🙂
Again, even if you feel like you're far from the person you'd like to be - that your energy keeps you from being the mama that you want to be - there are things you do right. Maybe you listen to your children and let them share emotions without getting upset at them. Maybe you can sing a song and make them smile. Maybe your arms are always open for a cuddle.
You are a good person and a good mother - and you deserve the baby steps to move back towards health.
Another part of attitude involves boundaries - for example, it's OK to be a good mama and also take time for yourself. Maybe you really need a nap in the afternoon, and that means you put your toddler down for a nap in the afternoons so you can sleep. Or maybe you put your toddler safely in a Pack n' Play so you can nap knowing where your child is. That doesn't make you a bad or mean mama - it means you're safeguarding your child while meeting your needs to help you mother that little one.
Getting Extra Help
You may also need to ask for help from others as you're healing - remember that it's OK to ask for help!
Asking for help can feel intimidating - most of the time mamas resist asking for help because they worry about inconveniencing someone else. They worry that asking someone (even a husband or the child's dad) to help with children will be a bother to the other person.
It's important to let go of that concern. If you need help with your children, ask without guilt. If you're asking Daddy to help with a baby or toddler, for example, let him sort out how to handle that time. Don't worry if Dad feels awkward at first - they'll work it out! You take that time to rest 😀
And if someone else, like your mom or mother-in-law, asks if they can help out, be OK with their help. Let them help without guilt.
Sometimes people will offer help in other ways - with a meal, keeping up with laundry, etc. Let them help!
You may also need to talk with a care provider. If you're struggling with thyroid issues, adrenal fatigue, etc., consulting with a doctor, naturopath, or other practitioner may really help you. These providers can order labs to get baseline values and help you find supplements and strategies to help overcome fatigue and heal.
Finally Feeling Better
Rediscovering energy and wellness is not always a fast journey - there are no magic bullets, especially since you may have been running on exhaustion for years and years.
It takes baby steps - and those steps may be very small if your exhaustion is profound. But over time you will start to see differences, feel differences, and thrive!