6 Reasons Why Moms Are Always So Tired & What You Can Do About It

There’s no denying it: Being a mom is exhausting. Take the endless mental and physical tasks of parenting, add in disrupted sleep, then sprinkle on the normal stressors of work — and life — and you’ve got yourself a recipe for major fatigue. It’s no wonder the hashtag #tiredmom has nearly 200,000 posts on TikTok, and more than 600,000 on Instagram.

But sometimes, exhaustion hits a whole new level. Although it’s easy to brush off extreme tiredness as just a natural part of motherhood, feeling like you have zero energy left could be a sign that there’s something deeper going on. And despite all the memes normalizing chronic fatigue, this is not something you should have to live with.

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“If we can make people feel better, give people energy, that improves their quality of life and however they choose to spend their time — with their children, in their career, whatever it is,” says Dr. Meghan Rudder, a women’s health specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Just because you decided to become a parent doesn’t mean you have to live in a fog until your kids grow up.

When to get your fatigue checked out

How can you tell when you’re experiencing something more than the typical parenting-induced sleep deprivation?

Rudder suggests seeking out help as soon as you start to question whether there might be something else going on. “Having a low threshold to reach out to someone is a good idea,” she says. “It can be hard to admit that you’re tired, but I think it’s good to talk it through with someone else who can ask more probing questions so that you get to underlying root causes.” If the first provider you see dismisses your fatigue as just a typical part of motherhood, get a second opinion.

Rudder says two red flags are 1. if you’re far more tired than usual (without significant life changes that would explain the additional fatigue) and 2. if you’re experiencing other concerning symptoms along with exhaustion, like shortness of breath, leg swelling, morning headaches, feeling extra hot or cold, or GI issues like constipation or diarrhea. Dr. Stephanie Liu, an assistant clinical professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Alberta, adds that fever, chest pain, or vision changes in addition to fatigue all warrant a visit to your doctor.

Worst-case scenarios like cancer or occult infections are uncommon, but not unheard-of. It’s not worth missing those diagnoses just because you’re not sure that your fatigue is worthy of professional help.

Reasons you might have no energy

Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few of the most common explanations for why you might constantly be feeling lethargic, even if you’re getting decent sleep.

You’re burned out

Ongoing research suggests up to 14 percent of parents experience burnout—when you’re not just fatigued, but emotionally spent, and even a good night’s rest doesn’t help you feel refreshed. Dr. Morgan Cutlip, author of Love Your Kids Without Losing Yourself, says that burnout includes cognitive issues like forgetfulness (or an intense version of “mom brain”), and emotional dysregulation, which could mean losing your cool more often. There might also be a tendency to escape into distractions like shopping, social media, or drinking. “What makes it hard to distinguish between burnout and normal motherhood stuff is that a lot of these are things we’ve normalized in motherhood,” Cutlip says. But if it’s constant, it’s a problem, she warns.

Among moms, this is sometimes called depleted mother syndrome. “It’s when our batteries are depleted,” says Elizabeth Meyer, a clinical social worker in Massachusetts. “There’s nothing left to give, but then we still have to give more.”

You’re struggling with a sleep disorder

Even if your kids are sleeping through the night, you might not be. Rudder says sleep apnea in particular is becoming more common among younger patients. This happens when your airflow stops periodically while you’re asleep, and you end up waking up in the morning still feeling exhausted.

Your thyroid is out of whack

Rudder says both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause fatigue. That’s because the thyroid is responsible for releasing hormones into your bloodstream that regulate all kinds of bodily functions, and when it doesn’t do that appropriately, it can affect your energy levels.

You’re low in iron 

“I think a lot about anemia in this population, especially if the patient is still menstruating,” Rudder says. Even if you’re not anemic, low iron levels can still cause fatigue. Particularly during the early postpartum period, Liu suggests watching how many pads you’re going through. “If you are bleeding through more than one pad an hour or passing blood clots larger than the size of an egg, low iron from bleeding can be a cause of fatigue,” she says.

You’re experiencing post-viral fatigue

If you’ve recently been sick, your body might still be recovering even though you otherwise feel better. Doctors often see patients struggle with lingering tiredness after a viral illness. “That’s something that can persist for a while,” Rudder says.

You have a mood disorder 

Both anxiety and depression can manifest as fatigue. “It can be one of the initial presenting symptoms,” Rudder says. Particularly during the postpartum phase when hormones rapidly drop, keep an eye out for low mood, lack of appetite or interest, or trouble bonding with your baby, Liu warns.

How to get your energy back

Even if there’s nothing medical going on that’s causing your fatigue, feeling drained on a daily basis is no way to live. Not only does it simply make, well, everything feel harder, Liu points out that it can affect how we connect with those closest to us. “It can strain relationships with partners, family members, and friends, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness,” she says. It can even make it harder to bond with and care for our children.

Although women are conditioned to give their all to their families — especially their kids — looking after your own health through small daily habits can go a long way to protect your energy: “Eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, go for walks outside — exposure to natural light and physical activity is beneficial,” Liu says.

Cutlip recommends giving yourself “microdoses” of self-care, fitting it into your life in ways that work for you. “We have to learn how to mother ourselves like we mother our kids,” she says.

And don’t be afraid to delegate. “Women are socialized to give and care for others. And we haven’t done a lot of teaching about how to recognize your own signals for overwhelm,” Meyer says. She suggests figuring out what fills up your own cup, then asking for the help you need to make it happen, whether that’s having your partner take care of the morning routine so you can sleep in sometimes, or having family members or a babysitter watch the kids so you can have a night out. Remember, she says, “it’s okay to have needs.”

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