Why You’re Feeling Weak During Pregnancy—and What to Do About It
Pregnant women are famously tired—after all, your body is working overtime to grow a baby. But feeling weak during pregnancy is often a lot more than just needing another nap. As New York-based OB-GYN Kameelah Phillips explains, “It’s more the inability to move or function normally.” For instance, you might feel lightheaded, dizzy or faint, especially when you stand up. You might get shaky, sweaty, confused or irritable. Don’t rule out headaches or blurry vision either. Even with a good night’s sleep, you might feel too exhausted to attack your normal activities. This may sound frightening, but occasional weakness during pregnancy is actually quite common and, fortunately, easy to manage. Read on to find out how.
In this article:
Why you might be feeling weak during pregnancy
What to do about weakness during pregnancy
How to prevent feeling weak during pregnancy
When to call the doctor about weakness during pregnancy
A range of conditions can cause weakness during pregnancy and they can happen at any point over the course of those nine months. “It’s very individualized, and it can change,” Phillips says.
Among the biggest culprits is low blood sugar. After all, when your metabolism has shot up and your hormone levels have shifted in the first trimester—and yet your appetite has shrunk, thanks to nausea and aversions to certain foods and smells—you end up taking in fewer calories than you need, says Patricia Evans, NP, CNM, a nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. The same can happen in the third trimester when morning sickness may be gone but baby is pressing on your stomach, which can also steal away your appetite. Whatever the case may be, not consuming enough calories can trigger a blood-sugar crash, which, in turn, can make you feel weak or wobbly.
Dehydration can also leave you feeling weak during pregnancy. Your water needs increase when you’re pregnant. Forget to drink enough, and you’ll feel sluggish or shaky.
You might also be feeling weak during pregnancy when you’re overheated. As most pregnant women know, that feeling is often also accompanied by lightheadedness and nausea—which only serve to intensify that desire to just lie down anywhere.
What’s more, blood pressure takes a natural dip during pregnancy, as hormonal shifts relax the cardiovascular system and cause blood vessels to expand, Phillips explains. That lower blood pressure can leave you feeling dizzy or lightheaded—symptoms that exacerbate any existing sense of weakness.
An iron deficiency can be a culprit too. Your requirements for this important mineral skyrockets when you’re pregnant. Not getting enough over time could lead to anemia (aka, iron deficiency), a condition marked by fatigue, dizziness or, you guessed it, weakness.
When that unsteady feeling starts to creep up, don’t try to just push through it, no matter what you happen to be doing. “Sit down, lie on your left side, or, if you’re driving, carefully pull over to the side of the road,” Evans says. “Take a deep breath and exhale slowly.” If you can, putting your feet up can help more blood flow to your brain and start to ease the dizziness.
Next, get some food and liquids into your system (or better yet, if people are nearby, ask them for help). Sports drinks are a great way to hydrate. Carb-rich snacks like crackers or fruit have easy-to-digest sugars that provide energy for your body to use immediately.
Stay seated for at least 15 or 20 minutes, Phillips says. Once you feel your energy is back, get up slowly. Sometimes standing up too fast can make you dizzy all over again.
A few good habits can go a long way toward helping you feel stronger, steadier, and more energized.
• Eat often. Try to eat and drink water every two hours to keep your blood sugar levels steady. Carry snacks with you at all times—a handful of nuts, apples and peanut butter are ideal.
• Drink plenty of water. Pregnant women should aim for 10 cups daily.
• Change up your position and get up slowly. Standing or sitting one way for too long can cause more blood to pool in your feet and legs, away from your brain.
• Pay attention to your iron intake. You need 27 mg of iron daily during pregnancy (compared to 18 mg when you’re not pregnant). Red meat, beans, poultry, leafy greens and fortified cereals are all good sources, but if your iron levels are low, your doctor might recommend a supplement.
• Keep cool. Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing if you tend to get hot. On warm, sticky days, consider staying inside during the hottest part of the day and pacing yourself when you’re out and about.
If the weak feeling eases up after you have some food, drink and rest, it’s probably not a cause for concern. But call your doctor right away if the weakness:
- Accompanies trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Comes with chest pains
- Happens often
- Affects your quality of life
To find a possible underlying cause of your weakness during pregnancy (such as iron deficiency or gestational diabetes), your doctor may perform blood work or other tests, and can advise you on next steps.
About the experts:
Kameelah Phillips, MD, is an ob-gyn in New York City and founder of Calla Women’s Health, her private practice. She received her medical degree from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. She is also a member of the International Board of Lactation Consultants and is especially interested in the areas of prenatal care, lactation, sexual health and menopause.
Patricia Evans, NP, CNM, is a nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, with more than 20 years of experience. She earned her nursing degree from Saddleback Nursing College and became certified in midwifery by the San Jose State University Midwifery school.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.