First trimester morning sickness (which doesn’t just hit in the morning, ahem) and the overwhelming tiredness that the first trimester brings can bring a rough start to the beginning of a pregnancy.
As I embark on this pregnancy with our fifth child, I’ve been overwhelmed with the tiredness and nausea, which maaaaay be a sign of twins, but since I won’t be able to rule that out for quite a few more weeks, I’ll settle for reflecting on my past experiences and a dabble of research to see what I should do to combat this nasty business. (*Update: It wasn’t twins!)
Why Women Get Tired During the First Trimester
During the first trimester, our bodies do something so amazing that it rivals the fact that we’re actually growing a living human being. Our bodies are making an organ…the placenta to be exact. This organ will nourish our baby (or babies) with both oxygen and food throughout the entire pregnancy, and so yes, we’re going to be a little extra tired during this process.
On top of this, our metabolism kicks into high gear, our hormones are increasing like crazy, and our blood sugar and blood pressure both tend to be lower. All of these things working together create the perfect storm for fatigue, but don’t worry, I have some ways to beat this! (Source)
Why Nausea Hits So Hard During the First Trimester
Now, this is a little more elusive than the fatigue question, and “no one really knows” why women get “morning sickness”. (Yes, morning sickness is a stupid name because it doesn’t just happen in the morning and the “no one really knows” things just always bother me…)
Almost 75% of all pregnant women will experience some sort of nausea or vomiting which can begin as early as 4 weeks, peak at about 8-10 weeks, and then taper off by about 14 weeks when the second trimester begins. Although, for some women it will last longer, and for a very small percentage, it could be hyperemesis gravidarum which is extreme vomiting that never lets you keep anything down.
One theory is that it is triggered by the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone that rises rapidly during pregnancy, which is why women pregnant with twins typically experience more nausea since they have higher levels of hCG. Estrogen also rises rapidly (along with progesterone) and could be another trigger. The heightened sense of smell, a sensitive stomach, and stress could also contribute to this “morning sickness”. (Source)
Tips and Tricks for Getting Over Morning Sickness and Fatigue
Even though nausea and fatigue are technically two different things, I have found their cures to be inextricably linked. For me, it’s like they work in tandem. By adhering to the following tips and tricks, I have been able to stave away extreme fatigue and nausea in my first four pregnancies, but now with our fifth baby, I’m wondering why I am feeling so particularly tired and nauseous. Could it be multiples or do I just need to take better care of myself? By adhering to the following tips and tricks for the last few days, I am already feeling a million times better.
1. Stay Away from Sugar
When you’re pregnant, your body is more sensitive to sugar. (Read more about why this causes women to experience more yeast infections and get gestational diabetes here.) This sensitivity peaks at about week 23, but it begins the moment you conceive.
Basically, you’ve learned that you’re pregnant, and so now that you’re “eating for two” you want to pig out on ice cream, doughnuts, and cake. But what happens when you do this is that your blood sugar spikes and then totally crashes leaving you feeling extremely tired afterwards. If you were already a “sugar burner” before pregnancy, it’s only going to get worse now.
I have always danced around hypoglycemia (pre-pre-gestational diabetes) with each pregnancy, and my sensitivity to sugar has continuously increased. Now, in my 5th pregnancy, I am going to do my best to avoid it on a regular basis. (But hey, there’s always special occasions, right?)
2. Stay Away from Processed Food
This kind of goes along with the sugar thing, but the reality is that you’re going to be hungry…A LOT…during this pregnancy, and it’s best to start some healthy habits so that whenever you do feel those hunger pains, you’re not stopping at McDonalds or grabbing a bag of Doritos.
Because most fast food and cheap processed food is void of nutrients, you’re just getting empty calories when you eat processed food. This is not going to energize you and make you feel alive and vibrant! It’s going to make you feel tired and sick. Now, for some people, a treat now and then is okay, and for other people, this is just a gateway for more and they must adhere to complete abstinence.
3. Eat Nutrient Dense Food
Finally, something you can do! If you only have 9 months to grow a human life including it’s brain, organs, tissues, and skin, you want it to be constructed out of the very best parts, and this is where nutrient dense foods come in. Grass-fed beef, pastured chickens and eggs, raw milk, butter, cheese, organic fruits and vegetables, organic and properly prepared grains and nuts are all foods FULL of nutrients. Basically, you want to eat food in as close to its original state as possible. (For more information about nutrient dense food, I highly recommend reading Nourishing Traditions or checking out the Weston Price website.)
Now, maybe you can’t always afford organic produce or pastured meats, and that’s okay. Just do the best you can with what you have.
4. Eat Small Meals
I feel like during pregnancy, I go through this viscous cycle where I’m STARVING, which makes me feel nauseous, and so I’ll eat a HUGE meal, which makes me feel extremely tired, and so I completely crash, and then the cycle threatens to continuously repeat itself.
Throughout my first four pregnancies and now this fifth pregnancy, I feel like most of my symptoms associated with nausea are usually because I’m hungry. But if instead of eating a large meal (especially one full of sugar and processed foods), I eat just a small one full of nutrient dense food, it usually gets rid of the nausea and leaves me feeling energized. Basically, I try to eat when I’m hungry and stop BEFORE I’m feeling totally full. And by having the house stocked with healthy, nutrient dense food, it makes it that much easier to grab something that’s good for me.
If I’m starving, I find it’s best to have something high in fat and protein. These are my go to snacks:
- A handful of almonds or pecans
- A glass of raw milk
- Some crackers and cheese
- A baked potato with butter, cheese, sour cream, and chives
- Greek yogurt
- A boiled egg with salt
- An apple with peanut butter
If I’m looking more for a meal, I’ll have:
- A burger or hamburger salad
- Salmon, broccoli, and rice
- Chicken soup with homemade bone broth
- Eggs (sunny side up or scrambled) with sourdough toast or as an egg sandwich
- Homemade pizza
If I’m looking for a lighter meal or snack, I’ll have:
- Carrots, peas, cucumbers, etc. and ranch (or plain)
- Popcorn with coconut oil
- A big salad
- Tomato salad with mozzarella balls, herbs, and italian dressing
- Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.
If I have a sweet tooth:
- My healthy oatmeal cookies (with milk)
- My gingersnap cookies (with milk)
- Soaked oats with butter, brown sugar, and milk
- Sourdough pancakes and maple syrup
5. Get More Sleep
I know this kind of sounds like a no-brainer…if you’re tired, get more sleep, duh! But easier said than done! We are such creatures of our routines, and it can be hard to change. When I’m not pregnant, I can survive easily on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. But when I’m pregnant, especially in the first trimester, I need MUCH more! Lately, I’ve been getting 9-10 hours of sleep a night, and I feel pretty darn good about it!
Basically, you’ll need to experiment with sleep to find your sweet spot where you feel well rested, but know that 9 hours of sleep are recommended per night for pregnant women in their first trimester.
6. Take Naps
I’m not one of those people who take long 2-3 hour naps and feel rested. Usually sleeping for that long actually makes me feel even more tired, but taking quick little 5-20 minute cat naps leave me feeling quite refreshed. When I’m feeling super duper tired (even when I still have a million things to do), I just plop down on my bed (light pouring through the windows and everything), close my eyes, and get up as soon as I feel my eyes flutter back awake.
Here’s some of the science behind why taking cat naps are so good for you, and how they will boost your energy, cognition, and health way more than a cup of coffee could. (I am not totally against coffee by the way, but on a side note, teeccino is a good coffee substitute.)
7. Cuddle More
I have four kids between the ages of 18 months and 6 years, and they ALL love to cuddle. I always have so much to cook, clean, and prepare, that it can be hard to find time to just plop down and cuddle, but when I do, it is something we all enjoy. Sometimes I’ll grab a book and read to any/all of them, other times I’ll just lay on the floor and watch them play, and occasionally I’ll wrap one or two up in my arms as they watch one of their favorite shows.
8. Get Moving
I know that when you’re tired and/or nauseous, the last thing you want to do is think about moving your body, but if you’ve had a good night’s sleep, a little cat nap, some cuddles, and some nutrient dense food and you’re still feeling tired and/or nauseous, get your butt off the couch and go for a walk or a bike ride! Put the kids in the stroller or in the bike cart and just move it! When I force myself to do this, even when I feel like I should just plaster myself to the couch, I always feel better afterwards. Getting some fresh air, sunshine, and the blood flowing fills me with endorphins, and I feel totally energized.
This is the one thing I try to start my mornings with, and it not only makes a tremendous difference with how I feel during pregnancy, it also strengthens me for labor. When I was pregnant for Ruby and on summer vacation, I had time for really long yoga sessions, but now as a busy mom of four, I’m lucky to get ten minutes a day for this! Here are the yoga videos I have enjoyed.
- Tony Horton’s 10 Minute Trainer: Yoga Flex
- Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga
- ZenMama with Rainbeau Mars: Prenatal Yoga
You could also just go to your local library and see what prenatal yoga videos they have or type in “prenatal yoga” into a YouTube search bar and find one that suits you.
Eating well, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep can do wonders, but during pregnancy especially, I think it’s good to have some good supplements. Here are the things that I like to use.
- Prenatal Vitamins: I feel like you should be able to notice a difference when you take a multivitamin. These are the prenatal multivitamins I have liked. *Make sure your prenatal doesn’t have propylene glycol (a preservative) which in my experience has caused nausea.
- Cod Liver Oil: Cod liver oil is better than fish oil because it has vitamin A and D (which are fat soluble) as well as omega-3s.
- Ginger: Ginger is known for helping with a variety of digestion issues including nausea. You can get a good ginger tea like this, or you can make your own by grating up some ginger root and boiling it with lemon and raw honey.
- Peppermint: Peppermint calms the muscles of the stomach and improves the flow of bile, which the body uses to digest fats. You can get a good peppermint tea like this that works great, or sometimes just the scent of peppermint oil on a cotton ball in an inhaler stick works too. I would not recommend ingesting any peppermint oil, however. Read more about safety with essentials oils here.
I really needed to write this blog as reminder for myself that as I embark on yet another journey of pregnancy, that I have to take care of myself! When we really listen to our bodies and respond to their signals, we can overcome so much. As I have started to take my own advice (especially the parts about allowing myself to sleep, taking naps, and eating healthy snacks), I already feel tons better! So, if you’re in your first trimester and you’re feeling nauseous and/or tired, slow down, listen to your body, and take care of yourself. You will be so glad that you did!