How to cope with fatigue and backache during pregnancy

Fatigue is an important signal from your body that you need extra rest.

06 August 2012
by The Clicks health team


One of the first signs you may experience during your pregnancy is the unusual feeling of fatigue. It is nothing to worry about. In fact it is your body’s way of ensuring that you do nothing out of the ordinary to endanger yourself during this time of change – as this new life is beginning to form inside of you.

In fact it is quite something to consider – try and stop and consider what a feat your body is performing as it builds a new body, cell by cell, you can understand its need for rest. In the beginning the need for sleep can catch you totally unaware, to the point that you may find yourself nodding off during breakfast, lunch and or suppertime.

Tiredness in the first trimester is understandable. This is the most important developmental stage of your baby’s life, both inside and outside the womb. The rate of growth is phenomenal. You have every reason to feel tired, and in fact the lethargy that you feel is nature’s way of slowing you down so that you do not overdo things, or get up to things that you do not normally do. Go ahead and give in to these feelings. Follow your body’s lead and nap whenever you can, without feeling guilty.

Many women once their pregnancy is confirmed, rush out and want to start all sorts of exercise programmes and eating programmes etc in an effort to get off to a good start and look after their bodies and their babies. Try not to give in to this impulse. The time will come when you will have much more energy and this is usually when you move into the second trimester. Follow your body’s lead and take it easy. Sleep as much as possible and put your feet up whenever you can.

In the latter part of your pregnancy fatigue will once again creep up on you, this time for a different reason. As your baby gets heavier your body is carrying around between nine to 11kgs of extra weight. This is the same amount as carrying around a 10kg bag of dog food. One can see why your body takes some strain, and why it is important to spend some time off your feet.

Other causes of fatigue during pregnancy include anaemia, lower blood pressure, and shortness of breath, poor nutrition, stress and tension.

Fatigue is an important signal from your body that you need extra rest.

Fatigue is a natural and normal aspect of pregnancy and while it can’t be prevented, there is much you can do to reduce it.


Although every single system in your body is affected by pregnancy, none are as visible as the changes that occur to the mother’s skeleton. As the pregnancy progresses, and the centre of gravity of the body moves backward there is more “drag” placed on the mothers spine. With weakened abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, backache is almost inevitable. The abdominal muscles do not supply the same amount of support from the front, and the pelvic floor from below strains to support the extra intra abdominal weight. Shortened hamstring muscles also contribute to lower back pain. This is bad news for your back which is left holding the baby.

In early pregnancy the baby rests on the mother’s hip bones, which are very strong and can support the extra weight. As the baby grows the weight moves forward over the pubic bone. Gravity adds further stress on the back as it pulls the weight downward.

Lower back pain often starts in the area where you can place your hand on your back at the level of your waist (or where it used to be). These muscles shorten, more than weaken during pregnancy and your first step in combating this is to get active and exercise. Becoming more aware of your posture and how you move, sit and stand every day will also improve matters. It goes without saying that improving your posture is vital. Body mechanics as well as hormones are to blame for pregnancy backache.

Many women will not suffer from backache in early pregnancy, but most women will have a bout of it towards the third trimester. Certainly in the last weeks it is one of the most common complaints that I hear about and give advice on. Women who are overweight to start with may experience a lot of backache early on in pregnancy, as would women with a history of backache due to spinal disorders such as scoliosis.

Tips to help relieve backache:

  • Start developing good body awareness.
  • Maintain good posture and don’t hunch and slump all the time.
  • Exercise and strengthen the muscles of the lower back as well as the abdominals and the pelvic floor. Yoga type stretching is beneficial for shortened muscles. Static stretching is preferable to “bouncy” stretching.
  • If you spend a lot of time sitting down, ease the strain by placing two telephone books in front of your chair, under your feet. This will raise your knees to a level higher than your hips and thus relax stiff lower back muscles.
  • Try to avoid standing for long periods of time, and when you do, be sure to place one foot onto something like a low stool or the bottom of a grocery trolley.
  • When sleeping use pillows to keep one or both hips slightly flexed. Place a small pillow between your knees.
  • Apply a heating pad, warmed buckwheat pillow or a covered hot water bottle to the area that is hurting.
  • Massage is soothing and comforting during pregnancy and labour. With back labour many women demand hard massage and firm counter pressure.
  • Pelvic tilting whether in the upright position, lying down, sitting or on all fours, is a great way to relieve pain and stretch the lower back muscles.
  • A visit to a physiotherapist or an osteopath may be in order if the pain is persistent.

Although back pain is the most common of the pregnancy niggles it is easily managed if you make a concerted effort to change some of your bad postural habits, become fitter and stronger, and learn how to relax.

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