Pregnancy and postpartum fatigue - what does the pandemic have to do with it?


I've been wondering why we’ve all been feeling so tired, despite all the extra time at home during this lockdown. For mums at home, feeling socially distanced is not a new thing. One positive about the lockdown rules is that there has been less need to be organised for even simple trips with the kids. But with all the extra time, why have we been feeling so tired?


As it turns out, there may be several reasons why we are struggling to keep our eyes open. For some, there are the realities of home schooling, plus working from home, plus managing a household and, of course, managing the dynamics of family members being in close quarters 24/7. On top of this, we know the rollercoaster that is pregnancy and parenthood even outside this pandemic.


As a health coach who focuses a lot on behaviour, I am always talking about how change – any change – can impact us. Moving from regular routines to then figuring out how to get through a whole day takes energy. Our body’s goal is to conserve energy, and by creating habits we create automatic neurological pathways that our brain and body relies on so that both mental and physical energy can be used for more important things. Pregnancy and parenthood throw changes at us left, right and centre, and then add on a pandemic and now you feel like you don't stand a chance.

 

Aside from change brought on in this season, there are a few other things that could also be contributing to those couch snoozes, or wishful couch snoozes...for those parents who have kids that seem like wind-up toys. Here are some reasons:

  • With change in routine comes the task of finding a new routine - Without the activities and places to get to we lack “anchors” that give us a point of reference in the day and it can seem like we lose track of time altogether. Being in the early phases of adjusting with a newborn and a toddler, this has been a challenge for us even without the rules of lockdown, so it has felt like a double whammy.

  • Being isolated – We are social creatures. Even those who are introverted need social interaction, even though it may be typically less interaction than extroverts. During pregnancy, and as parents, emotional and mental health declines are a lot more common for so many reasons. Feeling disconnected or feeling a lack of support during this season makes it all the more challenging. Another reason for the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”.

  • Reduced activity levels – being at home more has meant a likely reduction in incidental and planned activities. Whether it is reduced grocery trips and more home deliveries, or less access to gyms, play groups or pre-school, lockdown has provided a new threshold for how much we can and want to move daily. This lack of exercise and movement, especially without activities of purpose, lessens our motivation for, well, many other things. Like, have you been questioning why you have not been able to do more at home, despite being home so much more?

  • Changes in eating habits – found yourself dancing with your fridge door? Of course, with all the time in the day to access food, you may be finding yourself eating out of stress, boredom, or just because you are seeing food more often. Plus challenges with food availability has changed many habits around planning and preparing foods that our bodies actually need. So we may be missing out on needed nutrients, and also increasing our total energy intake, which is confusing as it is during pregnancy and in the post-natal period. Planning is an essential part of meeting your needs for pregnancy and breastfeeding, as there is an increase in energy requirements, as well as nutrients such as iron, iodine and folate, among others.

  • Lack of natural light - Being at home often means we’ve been indoors more, and our circadian rhythms are out of sync due to a lack of natural light. Being in winter in Australia, less sunlight also means less Vitamin D. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, Vitamin D plays many roles in growth, immune function, hormonal and even emotional regulation.

  • Excessive artificial light – We've done so well at holding onto “normal” routines, and screens have been a big part of it. From education, to social interactions and just general leisure time we have been spending more time in front of screens well into the hours of the night. We know that artificial lighting can delay the hormones that provide good quality sleep. So even though some (again, I say some) may be getting more hours of sleep, our sleep quality has being impacted.


Aside from all these, there are also the added stresses that we may be faced with during this pandemic. This could range from concerns health of our families and friends, to financial concerns, to general worry about the state of the world at this stage. The fluctuating laws around social distancing and isolation are keeping us wired to be on guard, and this demands a requirement to keep up with constant change.


With lockdown rules relaxing in some areas over the last few weeks, many of us have been wondering how we can keep up with the pace as we face the need to get back into routine. So whether you are still stuck at home or venturing out, here are ideas that may help:

  1. Remind yourself that habits and structure take time to become automatic, and feeling overwhelmed when a lot is changing is normal. Seek support from family, friends and your GP and don’t feel like you have to wait until you are truly struggling. For some, the changes brought on by this pandemic has shown what it takes to be a stay-at-home parent, so those around us are more likely to be understanding of the challenges you may be facing.

  2. As a parent finding rhythms can be much better than aiming for strict routines. In our attempt to get “back to normal” we are likely to force structure on ourselves and even our families. No successful behaviour change comes from trying to change too much too soon, and we end up overwhelmed and giving up. Both pregnancy and parenthood force a need to be flexible with what we can do daily. Whether it is getting back into play groups, or exercise, aim to re-introduce such activities gradually and with an open mind that planning and following through with it may take effort again! And that is a-ok.

  3. Get some sun! - whether you are pregnant or not, vitamin D plays huge role in both physical and mental health, and even in immunity. Whilst some foods like mushrooms (which have been exposed to sun for a few days), egg yolk and fish can provide some of our Vitamin D needs, the sun is really our best source. Many of us have been forced to explore our backyards during the lockdown, and this is definitely one of the positives. Aim to get outside for short periods to just soak up that sun. For sun safety you can also download the free Sunsmart app. We are so lucky that we see so much sun in even in winter in Australia!

  4. If fatigue is getting the better of you, know that there are changes in energy and nutrient needs for pregnancy and breastfeeding. Speak to your doctor about blood tests that may be required.

This year has certainly been one that no one could have ever expected. Whether you are trying to start a family, going through pregnancy, or even parenthood, this time of constant change has been a challenge in many ways. For us, adjusting to a family of four, alongside all the other changes have made me question my abilities. Truthfully, it has made me reflect on my imperfections and recognise the need to look beyond myself for help and support, yet again. I have to keep telling myself to stay focused on one thing at a time, and manage what is within my control and leave the rest up to how it is meant to pan out. At the end of the day, parents have the most practice at adapting and we can come out of this one stronger than ever.


📸 @mamaforcebewithyou

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