During pregnancy, it’s quite normal to find that your moods become a bit unpredictable.
You may be giggling away one minute, only to be crying for no apparent reason the next. Or perhaps you’ve become easily irritated, and nothing your partner says or does seems to help?
Whatever it is you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Mood swings during pregnancy are caused by various factors, including your rapidly changing hormones, the physical discomforts of pregnancy, and the very normal worries of upcoming life changes.
If you find yourself feeling excited one moment and in tears the next, you’re far from alone. There’s a reason for the clichéd image of a crying pregnant woman eating pickles and ice cream. It’s based on real life.
Here’s why you may experience emotional ups and downs during pregnancy and how to cope.
Pregnancy Hormones And Mood Swings
One big reason for pregnancy mood swings is your rapidly changing hormones—specifically estrogen and progesterone.
Estrogen levels soar during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, increasing by more than 100 times.
Estrogen is associated with the brain chemical serotonin.
You may know serotonin as the “happy” hormone, one that many anti-depressant medications attempt to boost.
But serotonin isn’t a direct connection to happiness. Instead, imbalances and fluctuations in this neurotransmitter can cause emotional dysregulation.
How exactly estrogen and serotonin interact with each other isn’t fully understood.
What seems apparent is that changes in estrogen levels—and not a particular group of estrogen—cause mood imbalances.
Anxiety and irritability, in particular, are associated with estrogen changes.
But it’s not just estrogen that’s increasing. The hormone progesterone also rapidly increases during pregnancy, especially during the first three months.
While estrogen is usually associated with energy (and too much of it is related to nervous energy), progesterone is associated with relaxation.
That’s just what progesterone does in the body during pregnancy. It tells the muscles to relax, partially to prevent premature contractions of the uterus.
This muscle relaxation is also a factor in why women experience constipation during pregnancy.
Progesterone doesn’t only act on the uterine muscles but also affects the intestinal tract. So when your bowels slow down, constipation can be a result.
Relaxation hormones sound nice. But, for some women, progesterone makes them “too” relaxed.
This can mean fatigue and even sadness. Progesterone is the hormone that has you crying at all the Hallmark commercials.
Taken together—the anxiety and irritability from estrogen and the fatigue and tearfulness from the progesterone—is it any wonder pregnancy triggers mood swings?
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Early Pregnancy Mood Swing Triggers
Hormones trigger mood swings during pregnancy, but it’s not only the hormones. The discomforts of pregnancy can cause emotional distress as well.
For example, morning sickness, which can hit you any day, affects up to 70% of pregnant women.
Feelings of nausea and sometimes vomiting can be triggered by the slightest hunger pangs or even the smell of your neighbour’s cooking.
For those that experience more severe morning sickness than others, anxiety may arise over whether they will suddenly feel the urge to throw up during a business meeting.
Or they may worry that they will suddenly smell something “off” as they walk down the street.
The stress of not knowing when they might feel sick, and the stress of possibly throwing up unprepared or in public, can be intense.
Fatigue is another common early pregnancy symptom and one that can contribute to mood swings.
No one feels well emotionally when they are tired, and you may feel really tired during those first months of pregnancy.
Lastly, women who have experienced miscarriage or infertility may be anxious about losing the pregnancy.
This fear may be worse during the first trimester, when the majority of pregnancy losses occur.
Second Trimester Mood Swings
The second trimester of pregnancy is often called the “honeymoon” phase. Hormones are still changing but much less so than during the first three months.
Most women feel more energy and don’t have morning sickness anymore—or at least, it’s not as bad.
Still, there are potential emotional triggers. For one, during the second trimester, the body shape changes kick in.
Some women can avoid maternity clothing during the first trimester, but the need for extra room is unavoidable by the second.
Some women feel excited about their body changes. Finally, they don’t have to pull their stomach in!
But others can feel anxious. This is especially true for women who have a history of body image struggles.
Prenatal testing during the second trimester also can cause emotional distress.
Amniocentesis, when recommended, is usually done during the early second trimester.
Deciding whether or not to have prenatal testing and anxiety about the results can cause emotional distress.
Another thing that can lead to mood swings is reading about everything that can go wrong during pregnancy and childbirth.
Some pregnancy books are more like long lists of every possible complication. This can occur during any trimester of pregnancy, of course.
Not all of the “mood swings” of pregnancy are negative, however. For example, some women experience an increase in libido and sexual desire during the second trimester.
This is possibly because they are starting to feel physically better and increased blood flow to the pelvic region.
Third Trimester Mood Swings
During the third trimester, getting comfortable at night can be a problem. In addition, fatigue and difficulty with sleep can lead to mood swings.
Fears and worries about the upcoming birth can get intense during the last trimester, along with concerns about becoming a mother or mothering another child.
A “new” mood swing you may find yourself experiencing during the third trimester is “nesting.”
Nesting is when you are suddenly overcome with a desire to clean, organise, and physically prepare for the baby.
Not everyone experiences nesting, and for most, it can be a positive mood experience.
For others, especially if there are fears about not having enough to provide for the new child, nesting may lead to anxiety.
What Causes Pregnancy Mood Swings?
There are a handful of reasons you may have mood swings during pregnancy — hormones, sleep deprivation, and nagging anxiety form just the tip of the iceberg.
Rest assured that you are not just dramatic. There are real physical, physiological, and mental explanations for this seemingly erratic behaviour.
Changes In Hormone Levels
While several factors contribute to mood swings, the biggest culprit is a sudden surge in pesky pregnancy hormones.
During the early days of gestation, a woman experiences a veritable flood of estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones can do a number on one’s state of emotional health.
Estrogen works throughout your entire body and is active in the brain region that regulates mood — so it’s no surprise that this hormone is associated with anxiety, irritability, and depression.
On the other hand, Progesterone is a hormone that helps to loosen your muscles and joints and prevent early contractions. Consequently, it can cause fatigue, sluggishness, and even sadness.
So, yes, a sudden swell of estrogen and progesterone is a recipe for the occasional mama meltdown.
Fatigue And Sleep Deprivation
First-trimester fatigue or late pregnancy sleep deprivation can add fuel to the fickle fire and make it so that anything can send you off the deep end.
It’s hard to feel even-keeled and upbeat when you’re exhausted to your core.
In the first 12 weeks, “tired” is an understatement. No matter how much sleep you get, you will continue to feel depleted.
This can be wearing on your body and mind — especially if you are taking care of other little people, doing your job, and, you know, trying to manage all those other basic life obligations.
Similarly, the end of pregnancy can keep you awake at night. It’s hard to find a comfortable position in bed to accommodate your growing belly, and you are most likely experiencing aches and pains or Braxton-Hicks contractions.
Sprinkle on some third-trimester jitters, and it’s no wonder you’re tossing and turning at all hours.
Morning sickness causes intense physical symptoms, but it can have major mental and psychological effects as well.
It’s hard to feel like your best self when you’re perpetually in fear that nausea may strike.
It’s never pleasant racing to find a toilet or empty bag to throw up in.
With so many inconvenient moments — and the worry you may have to vomit during business meetings or commuting abruptly — it can take a toll on your mood over time.
The stress of wondering if and when your next nausea spell will hit can disrupt your peaceful mindset and give way to rising anxiety and sadness.
Your changing body could bring you tears of joy or exasperation.
Some expecting moms love watching their bellies expand and forms evolve. Others feel dismayed watching as their bodies become unrecognisable in a matter of weeks.
The fact that a woman can grow into a teeny human is undeniably incredible. Still, anyone who has ever struggled with body image issues knows that this feat can come with its own set of complicated feelings.
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Anxiety And Stress
You could be experiencing general anxiety about becoming a parent or welcoming another child into the mix.
Stress about life adjustments and finances might have you feeling bitter, worried, or edgy, too.
Mounting anxiety about labour can also make a mom-to-be surly or tense. Fears about delivery are real and rational, but they can escalate to become intrusive.
It’s, of course, natural that you’re going to feel a little cranky whilst perpetually worrying about the pain of contractions or the future of your perineum.
There are endless potential complications to fret about, and it can be frightening for first-timers and experienced moms alike.
Furthermore, if you’ve experienced complications or miscarriage in the past, your anxiety is not only understandable, it’s emotionally taxing.
Talking to your OB as concerns pop up will help to alleviate some of these nagging nerves.
When Will You Experience Pregnancy Mood Swings?
No two women have identical pregnancies. So while some expecting moms may experience dramatic mood swings, others will feel emotionally stable throughout their nine-month journey.
Your mood may even differ between your pregnancies.
It’s worth noting, though, that women who report premenstrual mood swings tend to experience them during pregnancy, too.
A study from 2015 also found a correlation between PMS and postpartum depression, so don’t write off your feelings.
Those who flip-flop between elation and aggravation will generally feel this emotional push and pull early in pregnancy when estrogen and progesterone levels are soaring and late in the third trimester as labour approaches.
Many women will be excited, terrified, and impatient all at once. It’s no wonder your mood may vary; your life is about to change in a very big way.
What Should I Do To Treat My Mood Swings?
It is important to understand you are not alone; mood swings are just another aspect of the pregnancy experience.
Knowing that what you are experiencing is normal and somewhat expected may help you cope.
The following list includes ways to manage your stress level:
- Get plenty of sleep
- Take a break during the day to relax
- Get regular physical activity
- Eat well
- Spend time with your partner
- Take a nap.
- Go for a walk
- See a movie with a friend
- Don’t be so hard on yourself
- Try pregnancy yoga class or meditation
- Get a massage
Mood swings are a normal side effect of growing a mini-human inside your body (and a small price to pay), but if they’re disrupting your day-to-day life at home, in the workplace, and everywhere in between, there are some strategies you can take to help you better manage them.
If you’ve ever gotten “hangry,” you know that a lack of food can lead to an undesirable outburst.
Quiet your inner anger and quell your appetite with healthy, nutritious meals and filling snacks fuel your body and energise your brain.
Sustained energy will help keep you calm and collected.
Exercise is a great stress reliever and mood booster. So if you’re feeling unexpectedly blue or crabby, consider doing some light, low-impact cardio, like walking or swimming.
Bonus points for outdoor exercise — the fresh air will refresh and invigorate you. Plus, the release of endorphins will encourage feelings of positivity and happiness.
Yoga and meditation are also immensely helpful. So don’t worry if you’re not sure where to start — there’s an app for that.
You can learn to stretch, move, or breathe through moments of intensity.
It’s so important to get quality Zzz’s when you are pregnant.
While feeling truly rested might seem unattainable during the first trimester, you can try to maximise the shuteye you do get by sticking to a bedtime routine, maintaining a morning schedule, and napping as needed.
As labour nears, do what you can to promote relaxation despite the general discomfort you likely feel.
Engage in some breathing exercises before bed, and use pillows to prop yourself up in whatever way helps you feel relatively comfortable (remember that side sleeping is best during the third trimester, though).
Finally, keep in mind that if there’s ever a legitimate excuse to nap, now is your moment.
Talk To Your Loved Ones
Make sure your friends and family members understand how you are feeling and what you are going through.
Explain to them that you might occasionally snap or react surprisingly.
Talking about this can set you and your loved ones up for smoother communication should an issue arise.
You could also consider connecting with other expecting moms who can relate to your current status. For example, join a local community-based group or find your own virtual one via social media.
Feeling more prepared for pregnancy challenges and having support can improve your mood.
Show Yourself, Grace
Pregnancy is tough. Feeling out of sorts emotionally makes it even harder. Don’t beat yourself up if you overreact to a situation, indulge in a tantrum, or have a dramatic minute.
Instead, show yourself some grace and kindness, and know these temper tidal waves are temporary. We all need an emotional release now and again.
Talk To A Therapist
If you feel like your emotions are taking on a life of their own, if your anxiety is hampering your ability to function, and if you are perpetually depressed, you should seek help.
Talk to your obstetrician or a psychologist. Prenatal depression and anxiety are common, and it’s nothing to feel shame over. However, you should be enjoying this exciting time of life, so take a step to reclaim your happiness by reaching out to a professional.
When Should I Seek Professional Help?
If your mood swings last more than two weeks and do not seem to get better, you may want to ask your health care provider for a referral to a counsellor. More than 11 million American women are affected by depression each year. Depression is most prevalent in women during childbearing years but can occur at any age.
Some symptoms of depression include:
- Recurrent anxiety and increased irritability
- Sleep disturbances
- Change in eating habits
- Inability to concentrate on anything for very long
- Short-term memory loss
If your mood swings become more frequent and intense, you must speak with your health care provider about options for dealing with severe mood swings, anxiety or depression.
Mood swings belong on the lengthy list of less than convenient pregnancy symptoms.
While you might be taken aback by outbursts of anger, sudden sadness, and spurts of spirited jubilation, know that these big feelings are all a part of the journey — and they’re getting you ready to experience the most overwhelming emotion of all: unconditional love for your new addition.
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