UCB Parents Advice about Pregnancy & Childbirth

Postpartum Exhaustion

Advice and recommendations from the UCB Parents mailing list. This page is brought to you by UC Berkeley Parents Network

Back to: Advice about Pregnancy & Childbirth


I'm wondering if anyone has had a similar problem with postpartum exhaustion. Since delivering my baby one year ago, I have been significantly exhausted most of the time. I've mentioned this to my doctors who dismiss the problem by saying that raising an infant is exhausting. I had a thyroid function test and a complete blood work analysis, neither of which showed any irregularities.

I get plenty of sleep (9-12 hours/night) and have a full-time nanny, so I don't think the problem is related to childcare. In particular, I have been exhausted (almost to the point of nonfunctioning) during my periods since they resumed about 4 months ago. My periods have also been accompanied by night sweats, which I also experienced about 2 weeks postpartum and when I stopped breastfeeding 3 months ago.

I'm 37, so I wonder if its common for older moms to have these problems. Any advice or information about similar experiences would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!


Your question says you've had a thyroid function test. The most common form of thyroid disease is autoimmune; it affects about 10% of women. It can be hard to diagnose because (like most autoimmune diseases), thyroid autoimmunity and resulting thyroid hormone levels wax and wane. Many autoimmune diseases worsen subsequent to pregnancy, especially if the woman is nursing (maybe due to all those extra antibodies being manufactured).

I have autoimmune thyroid disease that was not detected at first by regular thyroid-function tests. I persisted with second anbd third opinions, because I felt crummy, I had other thyroid-deficiency symptoms (in particular hair that becomes coarse and dry, and falls out excessively). My condition was diagnosed correctly after an antibody screen. Did your doctors also look for antithyroid antibodies? Did they do the thyroid-function test more than once? You may not have been effectively tested.


You need to see a different doctor, and right away. If the first one doesn't figure it out, see another one. In my experience, doctors have blind spots and if one doctor can't find the answer right away, he/she never will. Night sweats and being exhausted after 9-12 hours of sleep is NOT normal, infant or not. I don't want to scare you but you need to get pushy about your medical care. Fran
Chinese medicine is good for many gynecological problems. I would get acupuncture and herbs in your situation. Check out past recommendations from the list, http://parents.berkeley.edu/recommend/medical/oriental.html. Some practitioners even take insurance; two not on the list were Nancy Rakela, who takes Landmark (and Worker's Comp), whom I see now. I'd highly recommend Kate Kemble in Berkeley, whom I used to see. Dana
Although you mention having a thyroid function test, there is a disorder -- Hashimoto's Thyroiditis -- that can cause your symptoms. The tests for Hashimoto's are not thyroid function tests, but tests that look to see whether there are antibodies in your blood. Hashimoto's causes the body to react to the thyroid and the hormones it produces as foreign bodies and to try to destroy them with antibodies. It can cause the exhaustion you describe as well as other symptoms (i.e., depression, lability, concentration difficulties, memory problems, sluggishness (both physical and mental), irritability), and is generally easily treated with thyroid replacement pills (which are synthetic thyroid hormones) which cause the thyroid to shut down, which in turn reduces the antibodies that cause the problems.

I don't have the names of the specific antibodies to be tested for handy, but I can locate them if you wish. I would simply ask your doctor to do the new tests -- ASAP. The statistics on the number of undiagnosed thyroid disorder sufferers (primarily women over 35) is alarming!

Good luck! I had Hashimoto's for many (14-15) years and know how bad it can be. (I use the past tense only because I was also one of the rare people who was untreatable and ultimately had my thyroid removed six years ago (the BEST thing I ever did in my entire life, but unnecessary for most).) If you'd like more specific info or need the names of the antibody tests, feel free to contact me directly (but I just had a baby, so it may take a few days for me to respond). Laurel


Hormone events can trigger changes in endocrine function, the one implicated in both cases (also "Hair loss after childbirth") may be low thyroid function. You can easily check this out by looking at Mary Shamon's super web site on thyroid: http://thyroid.about.com/ You can check out Dr. Broda Barnes or Dr. Steven Langer's books on this topic. An easy home test Dr. Barnes suggests is measuring your armpit temperature first thing each morning for 3 days, beginning the 2nd day of one's menses. Shake down the basal body temp thermometer the night before to minimize morning activity that could confuse the results. That means doin this before getting up to pee. Leave the thermometer in the armpit for 10 minutes. Average the results and if less than 97.8, see your doctor who, hopefully, will not rely on blood tests to offer help. As Mary writes, symptoms are everything. Good luck! Nori
A friend of mine had symptoms similar to the ones you described and after many tests and appointments with various doctors was ultimately diagnosed with lupus.
Boy can I relate! I have an almost 3 year old and an almost 1 year old. I'm exhausted too. I honestly can't say that I have been getting enough sleep so I don't know how I would feel if I were but when I read your note I immediately thought you should go see an acupuncturist. I went for an unrelated issue (shoulder bursitis) but also discussed my ongoing exhaustion and he talked to me about the amazing strain on the body of pregnancy and nursing and childrearing and gave me an overall mother oriented tune up and some herbs and I must say I felt better! I went a few times and really felt the difference, plus he completely cured my bursitis in about 4 visits! I wasn't religious about taking the herbs but if I were as miserable as you sound I would definitely give it a go. Are you having a chance to get mentally rested as well as physically? Good luck. Laura
You have my sympathy -- for more than two years after my own daughter's birth, I was so tired I could barely function. There were days when I was literally walking into walls and could barely remember my own name. Sleep deprivation was partly to blame (my daughter's very "high need" and still doesn't sleep for more than a few hours at a time), but it doesn't sound like that's the culprit in your case. My mother and grandmother both have underactive thyroids, and I've had a thyroid function test every year of my adult life since fatigue has always been an issue for me. For years, the results were within the normal range, even after my daughter was born and my exhaustion increased exponentially. Finally, this past fall I had another test that was "borderline," and a follow-up a few months later that was much worse. I'm on Synthroid now and feeling better. My advice would be to keep getting those thyroid tests, perhaps as frequently as every few months. My doctor said that my thyroid has probably been faltering for years, just not enough to be picked up on a routine test, and that a "normal" thyroid level for me perhaps is different from the textbook definition. If your doctors continue to brush off your concerns, think about changing doctors! The other thing that you might want to consider is postpartum depression. This can bring on the sort of fog you're describing, and can linger for a year or more after birth. Sleeping up to 12 hours a night sounds like a red flag for depression. Please find a more sympathetic and proactive doctor to discuss these issues with. Best of luck! Leah
I am an older mom who had a difficult delivery and didn't experience the kind of exhaustion you are talking about, after the 3rd month or so; though there were various effects of pregnancy and delivery that took a long time to heal. What you are describing, given your childcare and sleep situation sounds more like depression. I would ask your physician to check further to rule out less-common physical causes (pregnancy/birth triggered MS-like symptoms in one of my sisters.) If she doesn't find any physical cause, then it would be worth talking to a psychiatrist to see if some combination of therapy/antidepressants would be helpful.
Being exhausted all the time and trying to function as a mom (and wife and woman) must be very hard. I would suggest a visit at a homeopathic practitioner, as they seem to be less prone to dismissing mom's difficulties if they don't fit in with the norm. may I suggest the wonderful homeopath that has been treating our whole family for the past 10 years- Christine Ciavarella at the Hahneman Clinic in El Ceritto phone no. 510 524-3117. Let me forewarn you that it isn't always easy to get into her practice and she is not cheap but her help is worth its weight in gold. Good luck. Ksenija
It takes a long time to get past the exhaustion of having a child. I myself have a 13 month old and every day i surprise myself if i have enough energy to get out of bed and start the day. I didn't start to get my energy back until the first year mark. The sweating is normal but i would suggest sleeping 7-8 1/2 hours at night and taking an hour or two nap in the afternoon if possible. Exercise is also helpful in getting back a certain amount of stamina and energy... Good luck. Liz
It sounds to me like you may have a chemical imbalance in your body. Maybe you're deficient in some nutrient and merely need a change of diet and the right supplements. I think it's awfully late to consider your symptoms post partum exhaustion. When my first son was 6 months old I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I had every symptom in the book and the Drs.at first told me it was the stress of a new baby. I went to another doctor who gave me a thyroid test right off the bat. You maybe should consider another thyroid test just to check. I see a nutritionist named Julie Devin 652-5014. She's gotten me on the right tract many times in the last years through change of diet and use of supplements. Good luck. I hope you feel better soon. June
You should investigate CFIDS, chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome, here is a web site http://www.cfids.org/ I believe this site also mentions some other causes of fatigue to be ruled out for a diagnosis of CFIDS. You also need to find a doctor who understands the difference between ordinary exhaustion and medically significant fatigue. Sally
UCB Parents Home Page UCB Parents Recommendations UCB Parents Advice

The opinions and statements expressed on this page are those of parents who belong to the UC Berkeley Parents Network and should not be taken as a position of or endorsement by the University of California, Berkeley.