Post-partum fatigue is one of the most challenging demands of motherhood. It being normal doesn’t mean it won’t surprise you. Exhaustion is debilitating, and when combined with the job of being a new mother, your sense of self can be shaken. You may feel vulnerable, irritable, and at times teary and hopeless.
People often forget just how big a physical, psychological, and emotional undertaking having a baby is. In the early days, the birth canal is still sore and you will continue to bleed. If you have torn during delivery or had an episiotomy there will be the pain and itchiness as your stitches heal. If you’ve had a Caesarian, like any invasive surgery, it will limit mobility.
There is the discomfort of milk coming in, and learning the new feeding routine whichever option you choose.
There is also the very real anxiety around being the best mother you can be: reassuring yourself that you are a good mother who knows, and will continue to know, what the very best thing is for your baby. When you do sleep it can be in short bursts and may not feel restful. All this, at a time when you are learning to get to know your baby, and feel compelled to attend to his every need.
All of these aspects of motherhood take energy and we list them here to reassure you that there are real reasons for being this impossibly tired, and to break the coded silences about what the early weeks of parenting are like.
Know that a time will come when the tiredness lifts. Most mothers will feel like you at some point so try not to beat yourself up. Being this tired is not a sign of weakness or an inability to mother on your part. You are doing well in this naturally wearing part of early mothering.
I think the first month is the worst. It is slightly less difficult in the second and third months. But for me, it got easier after the fourth month.
Petra, mother to 6 month old baby.
Being on call 24/7 is difficult so it can feel maddening when others tell you to rest when baby’s resting. Yet rest is important, so how can you get through this time?
- Acknowledge to yourself and publicly how tired you are: Try not to let others or even your own self-talk dismiss the very real feeling of desperation a lack of sleep can trigger. Loving your baby does not mean you have to pretend that every moment is rosy.
- Ask for help: Being a good mother has nothing to do with being perfect. Many good friends and family want to support you but they may not instinctively know how, so tell them be specific. This is the time to say, “Can you help me to hang out the laundry?”
- Eat well and take a multivitamin to boost your energy: : In the early weeks, ask friends and family to bring you cooked food in bigger portions, which you can divide and freeze.
- Try to rest when your baby sleeps: Do this as often as you are able. Small moments of respite will reduce the drain of your energy. This is not self-indulgence or indifference. You need the rest to recover physically, and face the new demands on your time.
Sometimes what seems like post-partum fatigue can be something else. If your tiredness lingers and you don’t see any improvement, this can be post-partum depression; a hormonal imbalance like hypothyroidism, or a lack of mineral like iron. You know yourself best, and will know when something isn’t quite right, so do not be afraid to speak to your midwife or your doctor.
As one new mother says:
It feels like a cruel joke that once you have had the little miracle, that your body would physically go into shutdown! Like, why not produce some additional adrenalin to get you through the first six months?
Cyndi, mother to 8 week old baby.