Fatigue During Breastfeeding - Everything You Should Be Aware Of

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Sleep deprivation and fatigue during breastfeeding are common complaints among mothers. These could be compounded by postpartum exhaustion, as your body uses energy to break down your food to make various breast milk components.

In addition, sleepless nights and an inconsistent diet might make you more tired. However, this fatigue is not a long-term concern and usually resolves after a few weeks.

This post discusses why a woman feels fatigued when breastfeeding and how to deal with it.

In This Article

What Causes Fatigue During Breastfeeding?

Here are some of the possible causes of fatigue while breastfeeding:

1. Lack of sleep:

Lack of sleep after delivery may cause fatigue

Image: Shutterstock

  • After your delivery, you may not get adequate rest and sleep as you have to wake up through the night due to nursing schedules and diaper changes.
  • The constant disruption in your sleep cycles from feeding, sore nipples, and caring for your newborn might cause fatigue.
  • Your chances of experiencing severe fatigue and low energy are high if your baby has coliciA condition characterized by an infant crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks , is a poor sleeper, needs frequent night feedings, and is born prematurely.

Reflecting on her challenging breastfeeding journey with a colicky baby, Meghna Middha, a mother of two, states, “I confess that the thought of breastfeeding was a little daunting initially, but I was ready to do whatever I could to make this work. It wasn’t easy; it was followed by many sleepless nights, overcoming cracked nipples, and engorgement, mastitis. He (her son) had colic and didn’t sleep at night for the first three months. I remember caressing him, rocking him, feeding him, holding him closer, singing to him, feeding him again. The feeding hours were longer during the night, were tedious, and left me irritated at times. But at the same time, I also remember the happiness I felt from within, which was insurmountable. Despite all the initial struggles, we had a good start. Our pediatrician was well informed and encouraged me to move further with it (i).”

  • Most doctors will suggest you take a nap whenever your little one is napping. You can also ask a family member or friend to watch over your baby and older children so that you can get a “power nap” for two to three hours.

protip_icon Quick tip
Once you establish a breastfeeding routine, your partner or a trusted caregiver can occasionally feed expressed breast milk to the baby, so that you can sleep (2).

2. Infections:

  • A breast infection during lactation can lead to severe fatigue.
  • Mastitis is an infection that occurs when your breast tissue gets infected with harmful germs. Although mastitis causes mothers to feel ill it does not usually affect milk supply.
  • In addition to fatigue, mastitis can even induce several other symptoms, including , breast tenderness, redness, pain, or high fever.
  • Seek medical guidance, if you encounter any of the above symptoms. Doctors often need to prescribe antibiotics to treat mastitis.

3. Thyroid problems:

  • Postpartum Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland) may cause hyperthyroidismiWhen the thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormones than the body requires or hypothyroidismiThe inability of the thyroid gland to produce the necessary amounts of thyroid hormone . Postpartum thyroid problems can affect a mother’s sleep and cause insomnia and severe lethargy.
  • If your doctor checks your thyroid function labs and finds they are abnormal, they will prescribe medication to normalize your thyroid gland functioning and help you feel energized.

4. Unhealthy eating habits:

Unhealthy eating habits can make you sluggish

Image: IStock

  • During the lactation period, it is essential to ensure your diet is balanced and full of vitamins and other vital nutrients to help you stay energized and prevent maternal exhaustion.
  • Unhealthy eating habits, such as eating greasy or junk foods and excess caffeine intake, can make you sluggish.
  • Try to eat foods rich in fiber, protein, calcium, and iron during your lactating phase.
  • Dehydration from not drinking enough fluids while breastfeeding can also make mothers feel tired and sluggish.

5. Anemia:

  • Another cause of fatigue during lactation is anemia, which is a low red blood cell count. The blood loss that occurs during childbirth can trigger anemia.
  • To overcome anemia, you will likely need to take iron supplements and eat iron rich foods like beans, chickpeas, lentils, lean red meats, seafood, and iron-fortified cereal (1).
  • A meta-analysis conducted by researchers from Copenhagen University has found that oral iron treatment during pregnancy lowers the risk of iron deficiency anemia at term by 0.51 times more than mothers who do not take iron supplementation.

Natural Ways To Regain Energy While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your newborn baby, and ensure that your little one will get all of the nutrients needed for her growth and development. But breastfeeding often makes moms feel tired, fatigued and sluggish.

Here are some effective natural ways to boost your energy while you are nursing:

1. Eat Right:

  • You need to ensure that your daily diet is full of healthy nutrients and minerals that supply adequate energy to your body.
  • Include protein in your diet, as it boosts your energy level naturally. Some of the best protein-rich foods that you can eat while breastfeeding are lean meats, milk, nuts, cheese, seeds, fish, and legumes.
  • Foods rich in fiber content can also enhance your energy level and help you get rid of digestive problems. Some of the best fiber-rich foods are whole-wheat bread and pasta, fruits, vegetables, and brown rice.

2. Drink plenty of water:

Drinking enough water keeps you energized during breastfeeding

Image: Shutterstock

  • Not drinking enough water can dehydrate you, which drains all your energy, leading to fatigue.
  • During breastfeeding, you feel thirstier than normal, and drinking enough water keeps you energized and also quenches your thirst.
  • You should aim to drink at least 12-13 cups of water every day during breastfeeding and keep yourself hydrated.
protip_icon Quick tip
If drinking plain water can get monotonous, include nourishing beverages, such as coconut water, unsalted buttermilk, unsweetened lemon water, and infused water, in your diet.

3. Exercise:

  • You may think that physical activity will drain your energy and may make you feel fatigued and tired, but healthy exercise will actually boost your energy level.
  • Light exercise during breastfeeding can elevate your energy level, help you fight against fatigue, and lower stress levels and depression.

When To Visit The Doctor?

If you continue to feel exhausted while breastfeeding and feel you are going through baby blues even after making healthy lifestyle and dietary changes, you will need to visit your doctor. As discussed earlier, nutritional deficiencies can cause fatigue during lactation, and the doctor may prescribe supplements accordingly. Postpartum depressioniA medical condition characterized by sadness, anxiety, and fatigue for a prolonged period after childbirth  can also make new moms feel fatigued, sad, and lose interest in participating in favorite activities. If you have any concerns that you might be depressed please talk to your medical specialist about possible treatments for depression.

Best Foods To Eat To Fight Fatigue During Breastfeeding

Here is a complete list of super food that you can consume during breastfeeding to help overcome fatigue:

1. Bananas:

Bananas are a rich source of potassium and provide energy

Image: IStock

  • Bananas are a rich source of potassium that your body needs to convert sugars (carbohydrates) into energy.
  • Bananas also contain a high percentage of healthy nutrients such as vitamin C, fiber, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and carbohydrates. All these nutrients help you beat fatigue, tiredness and dehydration during breastfeeding.
  • The natural sugars present in bananas, like fructose, sucroseiChemical name for table sugar, formed when glucose and fructose combine , and glucose, serve as a quick energy booster.
  • You can safely consume 1 to 2 bananas daily or even enjoy a delicious banana shake or smoothie to elevate your energy level.

2. Green tea:

  • Drinking a cup of refreshing green tea can help you fight fatigue and stress associated with having a new baby.
  • Green tea contains a high concentration of polyphenolsiAntioxidant compounds found in food items such as fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea, and wine that help to stress, improve your mental focus, and boost energy.
  • The essential components of green tea can stabilize your metabolism and bolster your immune system, protecting you from infections.
  • To make a cup of homemade green tea, you can steep one tsp. of green tea in a cup of hot water. Strain the tea into a cup and add honey to flavor it. Drink green tea at least 2-3 times a day to feel refreshed and energized.
  • One word of caution is to make sure that the green tea you drink does not contain caffeine or herbs that may be harmful to your baby, such as ginsengiA tropical plant root known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects or ginkgoiA popular herb approved for the treatment of dementia .

3. Oatmeal:

Oatmeal contains fiber and helps fight fatigue

Image: Shutterstock

  • Oatmeal helps to fight fatigue. It contains quality carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, which fuels your brain and muscles for the entire day.
  • Other energy-boosting nutrients present in oatmeal, like phosphorous, magnesium, vitamin B1, and protein, help you feel energized.
  • Oatmeal also contains a high concentration of fiber, as a super food in improving your digestive health.

4. Yogurt:

  • The carbohydrates, protein and probiotics present in yogurt help to fight the symptoms of fatigue.
  • Yogurt also helps to improve your digestive health.
  • You can eat fat-free yogurt anytime of the day. If you do not like the flavor of plain yogurt, you can add fresh fruits, seeds, nuts, and or granola to prepare a homemade smoothie.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When does postpartum fatigue go away?

Although it depends on a woman’s overall health and nutritional status, postpartum fatigue is generally most prominent between six weeks to six months after childbirth (3).

2. What if my postpartum fatigue isn’t getting better?

If you are experiencing postpartum fatigue for an extended period (more than six months) along with other signs such as muscle pains or trouble concentrating, seek medical advice to rule out any medical issues such as chronic fatigue syndrome (4).

3. When does fatigue peak while breastfeeding?

Dr. Lilly Hubschman-Shahar, a lactation, maternal and child health professional from Washington, DC, says, “Fatigue while breastfeeding is likely to peak at about one month postpartum; however, peaks may be different in each family depending on the situational etiology, including frequency of infant feeding during the parent’s normal sleep hours, support in infant care, and parental sleep efficiency.”

4. What is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) after pregnancy?

“While many postpartum parents experience fatigue following the birth of a baby, CFS is distinct from normal postpartum fatigue. CFS is not well-studied in pregnant, postpartum, or lactating parents. However, the current theories behind the etiology of CFS suggest that it could be caused or exacerbated by the physiologic changes and stress related to pregnancy, postpartum, and lactation.

“CFS postpartum is characterized by over six months of extreme fatigue that does not improve with rest. CFS may be accompanied by depression, anxiety, pain, dizziness, and changes in cognition,” observes Dr. Hubschman-Shahar.

5. Does fatigue during breastfeeding affect milk supply?

Yes, fatigue can potentially affect milk supply during breastfeeding. When a breastfeeding parent is tired, their body may produce less milk due to hormonal imbalances and decreased milk production signals (5).

6. How can a breastfeeding mother get enough rest and sleep to combat fatigue?

Being a breastfeeding mother can be demanding and exhausting, but it’s important to prioritize your rest and sleep to combat fatigue and support your overall well-being. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. As newborns typically sleep for shorter periods throughout the day, take advantage of these moments by napping during those times. Moreover, you can make your bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet. Proper hydration and a well-balanced diet can also help combat fatigue.

7. What are some relaxation techniques that can help reduce fatigue during breastfeeding?

Deep breathing can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a peaceful, calming place, like a beach or a serene garden. Find a quiet and comfortable space, and practice meditation daily for a few minutes. Meditation can help calm your mind and promote relaxation. You can also listen to soothing music and get relaxing massages to cope with the stress.

8. How can a partner or family members help a breastfeeding mother experiencing fatigue?

It’s important for partners and family members to support and assist breastfeeding mothers to help alleviate fatigue. You may take on a larger share of the household chores such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping. Doing so will free up the mother’s time and energy, allowing her to rest and focus on breastfeeding. Offer to handle night feedings or diaper changes so the mother can have an uninterrupted sleep. You can also prepare healthy and nourishing meals and snacks for the mother to replenish her energy and maintain her nutrition needs.

Fatigue during breastfeeding is a common complaint in women. This may happen due to restless nights, breast infection, or unhealthy eating habits. However, since breastfeeding is essential for infants, mothers cannot avoid it. So, they need to find other ways to overcome their fatigue. They may do so by eating a well-balanced diet, drinking adequate water, and exercising regularly. You may also include foods such as bananas and oatmeal to provide the nutrients that help combat fatigue. However, consult a doctor if you cannot manage your fatigue even after changing your lifestyle.

Infographic: Foods To Eat To Fight Fatigue During Breastfeeding

Fatigue is a common and often overwhelming experience for new mothers, particularly those breastfeeding their infants. Nevertheless, choosing a balanced and nutrient-rich diet is one effective measure to sail through this challenge. Read through this infographic to learn about the foods that help combat fatigue and keep you energetic while breastfeeding.

combat fatigue while nursing with these foods (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Hormonal changes, sleeplessness, and other medical conditions may lead to fatigue while breastfeeding.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, adequate sleep hours, and a healthy diet can help manage fatigue.
  • Staying hydrated, engaging in light physical activity, and seeking emotional and physical support can help alleviate stress and fatigue.
  • Nevertheless, if fatigue is chronic, worsens over time, or is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s crucial to seek medical advice.
Fatigue During Breastfeeding_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team


Experience the joys and challenges of breastfeeding firsthand, as this video delves into the normalcy of fatigue during this remarkable journey.

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Stacey Callahan et al.; (2006); Fatigue and breastfeeding: an inevitable partnership?
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16684906/
  2. Sleep and tiredness after having a baby.
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/support-and-services/sleep-and-tiredness-after-having-a-baby/
  3. JanTaylorRM et al., (2010); How women manage fatigue after childbirth.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S026661380800065X?via%3Dihub
  4. A. Van Duys et al., (2002); Chronic fatigue syndrome in the psychiatric practice.
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1034/j.1601-5215.2002.140306.x
  5. 4 factors that can decrease breast milk supply – and how to replenish it
    https://utswmed.org/medblog/decrease-breast-milk-supply/#:~:text=Just%20catching%20a%20virus%20or,or%20decreased%20appetite%20definitely%20can
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Dr. Jessica Madden

Dr. Jessica MaddenMD, FAAP, IBCLC

Jessica Madden is a pediatrician, neonatologist, lactation consultant, and mother of four, who has been taking care of newborns for more than 19 years now. She works as a neonatologist in the NICU at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and founded Primrose Newborn Care, a newborn medicine and “4th trimester” home-visiting and telemedicine practice, in 2018.  Dr....read full bio