boost your energy levels during pregnancy
Nutrition

How to boost your energy levels during pregnancy

Are you expecting and feeling fatigued? Follow consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh‘s great advice on how to boost your energy levels during pregnancy.

Let’s face it, when you heard you were going to be tired during pregnancy you thought it would be the last few weeks, not from the very beginning. It comes as quite a surprise to many women (and their partners) that energy levels can be at rock bottom in the first three months, long before you even start to show. You may pick up a little in the second trimester, but then you can be really floored again in the last.

So what’s going on?

In the first three months, your body is changing from the normal you, into a you that is making a whole new person. Your hormones have to rearrange themselves, your womb has to start expanding and your immune system is also working over time. Add to this the joy (not) of nausea and morning sickness and it is no wonder you feel like going to bed at three in the afternoon.

Things tend to improve in the second three months, but by the last three, you are physically heavier (or you should be) with a whole second person getting first go at all you eat. Your body is running at a higher temperature and a higher metabolism and you are busy making brains, intestines and all the other bits and pieces that go into your beautiful little bundle. Sleep can also take a hit as you toss and turn and need to get up to the loo five times a night.

Top tip

Regular snacks throughout the day will keep your energy levels up. Nuts, dried and fresh fruit are ideal.

What can we do?

First of all, eat. In the early months, nausea and morning (or all-day) sickness can leave you wanting to avoid food but this will just lower energy levels even more and you are more likely to get sick if you get too hungry. Don’t think about three square meals. Go for lots of snacks. If mornings are a bad time for you then eat a dry cracker before you even lift your head off the pillow. This helps to settle your stomach and makes it more likely that you will be able to face an actual breakfast. Keep it fairly dry as you are less likely to feel like getting sick. Try a handful of dry cereal. If you go for one that’s fortified then you will pick up some B vitamins and iron as well.

Later in the day, go for more dry crackers if you can’t face food, or try cold things like slices of ham or turkey from the fridge. Cold foods have less smell so they tend not to trigger nausea. Don’t wait until you are hungry, nibble all the time. Once you are past the nausea or are one of the lucky few who missed it, then focus on some key nutrients to keep energy levels as high as you can.

Water

boost your energy levels during pregnancy

Getting dehydrated not only zaps your energy, but it adds to foggy thinking and ‘pregnancy brain’. It is easy to get dehydrated if you have a lot of nausea or vomiting but you can also miss out if you are having bad heartburn or are simply too full after meals to have a drink. Keep a water bottle near you all day and sip as much as you can.

Lots of women find water hard to take when they are nauseous and strangely 7-Up with lots and lots of ice can be easier to drink than plain water at this stage. Use only if you’re really struggling, though as it can add up to a lot of sugar. Aim to have at least six to eight glasses of water per day.

Iron

This can be a tricky one for many women as most of us link iron with constipation. However, if you eat your iron in food, it has less of an impact than taking it as tablets. Great foods for iron are chickpeas, lentils, almonds, hazelnuts, red meat, chicken legs (but not the breast), eggs as well as spinach and kale. Try to have two of these foods everyday.

B Vitamins

This family of water-soluble vitamins help to reduce tiredness and fatigue. They help your body to extract the energy from your food so it’s crucial to keep well-stocked up. You will get some B vitamins in fortified breakfast cereals and wholegrains.

Go for wholegrain breads and cerals and try meals based on quinoa, buckwheat or brown pasta. Milk and yoghurt are also great places to get B vitamins especially B12. Make sure you are getting at least 3 servings or milk or yoghurt everyday. Try two glasses of milk and one pot of natural yoghurt.

Fibre

boost your energy levels during pregnancy

Constipation turns up in the early days (usually due to poor appetite) and in the last few months (due to relaxing of all your muscles in preparation for the big day). Being constipated is not only uncomfortable, but it also drains your energy and leaves you feeling sluggish and dull. Fibre is key to solving this. In the early days, stick to healthy guidelines with lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and nuts and seeds. If appetite is a problem you can use some of the fibre supplements but talk to your dietitian or GP before you do.

In the later stages, you may be eating really well and still not getting the movement you need. This is the time to really up the fibre. Linseeds or flaxseeds are brilliant here. You can use up to four dessertspoons per day added to cereals, yoghurt or salads. Very high fibre cereals like All-Bran are brilliant if you’re really struggling. I would often recommend two bowls a day to women in their last few weeks of pregnancy. Remember that you also need to drink plenty of water if you increase fibre, especially if you go with linseeds.

Rest

Trust your body. Sometimes what you really need is to lie down. Your body is very busy and just like you need rest to recover from an illness, you need more rest when you are pregnant and no amount of healthy eating will take this away. Early nights (before 10pm) and naps when you come in from work, if you can will all really help. Try to limit how much you have to do both at work and in your social life. You really will have more energy if you let your body recharge its batteries now and again.

More like this:

Tackling tiredness with your pregnancy diet
Iron in pregnancy
Beating pregnancy fatigue

Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

A
Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.