How to cope with postpartum fatigue: Tips for exhausted moms

As a new mom, feeling tired is standard fare, but postpartum fatigue is a serious form of exhaustion that's often coupled with a lack of energy and difficulty concentrating. It's common, too: About 40 percent of new moms experience postpartum fatigue in the first week or so after delivery. Getting plenty of rest, asking for help, eating a balanced diet, and staying hydrated are a few of the things you can do to ease some of the exhaustion. If your fatigue doesn't let up after a few weeks, talk to your healthcare provider.

A tired mom looking at her baby in a bassinet
Photo credit: Katie Rain for BabyCenter

What is postpartum fatigue?

Feeling tired is one of the most common woes among new moms – affecting nearly two-thirds of them at some point – but postpartum fatigue is more than just normal sleepiness.

Postpartum fatigue is marked by an overwhelming sense of exhaustion that can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained, lacking in energy, and unable to concentrate. Symptoms include:

Advertisement | page continues below
  • Extreme tiredness
  • A lack of energy
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping

Postpartum fatigue is also quite common, though it tends to get better over time: One study found that in the first ten days after giving birth, nearly 40 percent of new moms say they felt fatigued. At one month postpartum, just over a quarter still experienced symptoms of postpartum fatigue. And a full year or more after their baby's birth, around 11 percent of mothers still reported being exhausted.

There are many reasons you may be feeling wiped out in those first few days at home with your newborn. For starters, your body is recuperating from the physical challenges of pregnancy and childbirth. (And if you had a c-section, you're also recovering from major abdominal surgery.)

At the same time, you're now caring for a newborn who needs hands-on attention around the clock, so what sleep you do get is probably fragmented and less restorative. Sleep can be unreliable and hard to come by in those first few months before your baby establishes a sleep schedule.

Breastfeeding, if you're doing it, can contribute to postpartum fatigue as well, and not just because you may be waking up at 1 a.m. (and then 4 a.m.) for feedings. Your body releases prolactin when you nurse, a hormone that both stimulates milk production and makes you feel sleepy. (That's because prolactin can alter your body's dopamine levels, a brain chemical that's linked to sleep.)

Moms who bottle feed may feel just as tired: Multiple studies have shown no difference in fatigue among postpartum women whether they're breast- or bottle-feeding.

Worries about whether you're breastfeeding correctly or giving your newborn the right care can also keep you up at night. And the less support you have from your partner, family, and friends, the more responsibilities you have to shoulder on your own. The extra work can wear you out even more.

Advertisement | page continues below

Being exhausted all the time can make it harder to bond with your newborn, and research has shown it might increase your risk for postpartum depression.

How long does postpartum fatigue last?

The answer is different for everyone. Postpartum fatigue is most common in the first few days after childbirth, but it can stick around for months or even years.

How long you experience fatigue depends on factors such as: 

  • How well your baby sleeps
  • Whether you're able to adjust your schedule to theirs
  • How much rest you get
  • The amount of support you have at home
  • Whether you have the added demands of work or other responsibilities outside the home

As your baby slips into a more consistent sleep pattern and you find more time to rest, postpartum fatigue might gradually improve on its own. If your fatigue doesn't resolve, managing it is important.

Advertisement | page continues below

What can I do to cope with postpartum fatigue?

Here are some strategies to try:

  • Get all the rest you can. Try to go to bed at night soon after your baby is settled. (Or better yet, go to bed early and have your partner take the evening baby care shift.) Nap when your baby does during the day (or at least put your feet up and close your eyes). 
  • Adjust your goals. Your priority right now is saving energy for yourself, your baby, and your other children. That may mean relaxing your standards a little (or a lot) when it comes to chores like laundry and housecleaning. Conserving your energy now means you're more likely to have it in the long run.
  • Ask for help. Reach out to your family and friends, or if you're able to afford it, consider hiring a postpartum doula or night nurse. They can do specific tasks, such as running errands, doing chores, cooking or delivering meals, providing breastfeeding advice and other support, watching your other children, or caring for the baby while you lie down for a bit. Having more support can help combat fatigue.
  • Don't skip meals. Try to make healthy diet choices with foods that provide sustained energy, like those high in complex carbohydrates and protein. Don't rely on caffeine and sweets for a quick pick-up.
  • Sip a cup of chamomile tea. This herb has been used for centuries to promote sleep because it has a calming effect. Drinking tea also has positive effects on depression. If you're breastfeeding, check with your healthcare provider before drinking other herbal teas; while chamomile is generally considered safe, other herbal teas could interact with breastfeeding.
  • Take a warm shower. Standing under a stream of warm water relaxes tense muscles and feels calming. Plus, a shower gives you a few minutes to be alone with your thoughts.
  • Breathe in lavender. The scent of this relaxing purple herb has been shown to improve sleep quality and improve fatigue. Plus, research suggests it might help new moms bond with their baby.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated gives you energy and helps replenish the fluid you lose through sweating, urinating, breathing, and nursing. Breastfeeding moms need about 16 cups (or 128 ounces) of fluid daily. Water is best, but fruits, soup, and other fluid-based foods are also good sources.
  • Continue taking prenatal vitamins, especially if you're breastfeeding. Your body needs extra nutrition to recover from delivery and nourish your baby. Iron, vitamins B12 and D, and iodine are especially important postpartum nutrients to have now. 
  • Get some exercise. Take your baby out for a walk. The fresh air and movement may help you both sleep better at night. Start out slowly and only go for a short distance at first. As you regain your strength, you can gradually step up your pace and distance and try more postpartum exercise.

What if my postpartum fatigue isn't getting better?

Call your healthcare provider right away if you can't sleep, you feel tired all the time, or you've lost interest in doing things you enjoy. These could all be symptoms of postpartum depression. Your doctor can refer you to a licensed mental health therapist for an evaluation, if necessary. Ignoring signs of postpartum depression can lead to more severe symptoms.

Reach out to your provider if you're still having symptoms of postpartum fatigue for more than a few weeks, even after trying the coping strategies above. There may be an underlying issue that needs treatment. For example, anemia can also contribute to fatigue, especially if you experienced postpartum hemorrhaging. Ask your provider if you should be tested for an iron deficiency.

A small number of women develop inflammation of the thyroid gland called postpartum thyroiditis after giving birth. Sometimes this can lead to an underactive thyroid gland, also known as hypothyroidism. A lack of thyroid hormones is another cause of fatigue.

Advertisement | page continues below

Read more:

How long does postpartum recovery last?

Postpartum warning signs

The best postpartum foods for new moms 

Postpartum anxiety (PPA)

Advertisement | page continues below

Postpartum psychosis

Postpartum rage

Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2020. Nursing your baby? What you eat and drink matters. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

CDC. 2021. Diet and macronutrients. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Chen SL et al. 2015. Effects of lavender tea on fatigue, depression, and maternal-infant attachment in sleep-disturbed postnatal women. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Markova V et al. 2015. Treatment for women with iron deficiency anaemia after childbirth. Cochrane. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Effati-Daryani F et al. 2018. Effect of lavender cream with or without footbath on sleep quality and fatigue in pregnancy and postpartum: a randomized controlled trial. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Harvard Medical School. 2013. Fight fatigue with fluids. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Henderson J et al. 2019. Factors associated with maternal postpartum fatigue: an observational study. BMJ Open. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Iwata H et al. 2018. Course of maternal fatigue and its associated factors during the first 6 months postpartum: a prospective cohort study. NursingOpen. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Johns Hopkins Health. Undated. Postpartum thyroiditis. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

NHS. 2018. Sleep and tiredness after having a baby. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Qian J et al. 2021. Effectiveness of nonpharmalogical interventions for reducing postpartum fatigue: a meta-analysis. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Srivastava JK et al. 2010. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Molecular Medicine Reports. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

World Health Organization. 2009. Infant and young child feeding: Model chapter for textbooks for medical students and allied health professionals. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Roky R et al. 1995. Prolactin and rapid eye movement sleep regulation. Sleep. 18(7):536-542. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Kawashima, Ai et al. 2022. Sleep deprivation and fatigue in early postpartum and their association with postpartum depression in primiparas intending to establish breastfeeding. Journal of Rural Medicine. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Badr, Hanan A. et al. 2017. Meta-analysis of the predictive factors of postpartum fatigue. Applied Nursing Research. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Wambach, Karen A. 1998. Maternal Fatigue in Breastfeeding Primiparae During the First Nine Weeks Postpartum. Journal of Human Lactation. a new window [Accessed February 2022]

Callahan, Stacey et al. 2006. Fatigue and Breastfeeding: An Inevitable Partnership? Journal of Human Lactation. a new window? [Accessed February 2022]

Stephanie Watson
Stephanie Watson is a freelance health and lifestyle writer based in Rhode Island. When she’s not busy writing, Watson loves to travel, try new cuisines, and attend as many concerts, shows, and plays as she can fit into her busy schedule.