This guest article is written by Natalie Maximets, a certified life transformation coach.
Pregnancy is a life-changing event that usually brings a lot of positivity, excitement, and hope. But, at the same time, it encompasses more hidden changes on an emotional and psychological level. For example, it is very common for a pregnant woman to experience unadulterated joy combined with uncontrollable anger.
Mood swings can be explained by a variety of factors, such as rapidly changing hormones, morning sickness, stress, body shape changes, and so on. As a result, the majority of expecting mothers undergo an upheaval of mood swings during their 9-month journey. If this is you, you're far from alone!
Let’s discuss why mood swings happen, when mood swings start in pregnancy, how to manage them, and when shifts in mood are a symptom of a more serious health issue.
What are Pregnancy Mood Swings?
Every pregnancy is unique – both from woman to woman and for the same woman – so changes in mood differ from case to case. One woman can experience moodiness, irritability, and crabbiness, whereas the other one can suffer from hot rages and anger in pregnancy. In both cases, these emotional surges are totally normal and even expected.
Teared up over a picture of a cute puppy? Got in a fight with your spouse when they forgot to buy cookies? There are many physical, physiological, and mental explanations for the firestorm of emotions you feel, no matter what kind of mood swings happen in early or late pregnancy. Let's dive deeper into this topic.
What Leads to Mood Swings During Pregnancy?
Even though various factors contribute to mood swings, the biggest culprit is a rapid increase in pregnancy hormones. During the first 12 weeks, any pregnant woman's body ramps up the production of estrogen and progesterone, which, in turn, triggers moodiness and physical side effects like nausea and fatigue.
The thing is, there is a strong biological connection between pregnancy hormones and mood. On the one hand, progesterone is produced in early pregnancy to prevent premature contractions of the uterus. Accordingly, it can contribute to the development of fatigue, sluggishness, and even sadness. Estrogen, on the other hand, allows the uterus and placenta to transfer nutrients to the baby. This hormone is active in the brain area that regulates mood, which explains why it is associated with anxiety, irritability, and depression.
So if you wonder how early mood swings can start in pregnancy, it typically happens in the first trimester, starting as soon as week 4. Also, mood swings considerably affect the woman's well-being toward the end of the third trimester.
Moreover, according to a meta-analysis conducted by the Journal of Population Therapeutics and Clinical Pharmacology, around 70% of women worldwide experience morning sickness during the first trimester of their pregnancy. Nausea and vomiting can significantly affect the quality of your life, preventing you from working, socializing, and looking after your other children. Thus, even though morning sickness usually doesn't harm the unborn child, it can cause considerable mood swings.
Mood swings become even worse in the second trimester, which can be explained by body shape changes, such as an expanding belly and weight gain. Some women enjoy the experience of being pregnant and the physical changes associated with this period. Still, there are women who cannot accept the fact that their physical appearance is going through major transformations. Most often, this is true for women who have a history of body image issues.
Finally, the inability to deal with body image issues and focus on growing a healthy baby also leads to unpredictable mood swings. In order to win the internal battle between feeling blessed to be pregnant and struggling to accept associated physical changes, a woman should learn as much as possible about pregnancy. It can help to understand that physical changes are an integral part of any pregnancy, and they prepare the body for delivering a healthy baby.
When it comes to pregnancy mood swings during the third trimester, they can be explained by fatigue and sleep deprivation. Women in their final trimester of pregnancy struggle to find a comfortable position in bed because of their growing belly. Plus, they experience more nighttime awakenings and spend more time awake at night. Due to reduced sleep efficiency and exhausting work of internal organs to accommodate healthy fetal development, a soon-to-be mom can experience a rollercoaster of different emotions.
How to Manage Pregnancy Mood Swings?
Every pregnant woman experiences a different set of mood swings. However, by following the recommendations listed below, each expecting mother can considerably reduce the impact of mood swings on her everyday life.
1. Engage in Regular Physical Activity
Most doctors recommend mild exercises for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day for three to five days a week may be effective for improving mood and minimizing the symptoms of depression or anxiety, the Mayo Clinic reports.
Physical activity contributes to the production of the brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Like morphine, these hormones activate opioid receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort and trigger a positive feeling in the body. So, to minimize mood swings, pregnant women can do most types of exercise, including swimming, indoor cycling, low-impact aerobics, and so on. This routine is especially beneficial for women who have the feeling of combined happiness and desperation during pregnancy. However, before adding physical activity into your life, check with your healthcare provider to find out which exercises fit you best.
2. Get Adequate Sleep
Although mood swings caused by disturbed sleep appear only after 30 weeks of being pregnant, it is important to prepare for them in advance. Otherwise, the lack of sleep can put an expecting mother at a higher risk for pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and negative pregnancy psychological effects.
Usually, doctors recommend sleeping on the left side, with your legs slightly tucked up towards your chin. If you sleep on your back most of the time, it can reduce the flow of blood to your womb, thereby restricting your baby's oxygen supply. Also, you can use a pregnancy pillow, a white noise machine, a meditation app, and a lavender scent to improve sleep quality. Consequently, it can help you decrease negative moods (anger, frustration, irritability, sadness) and enhance psychological well-being.
3. Improve Your Nutrition
Did you know that healthy nutrition is required to tackle mood fluctuations and improve the sense of "feel good"? At the same time, the lack of essential nutrients can lead to an undesirable outburst. Therefore, to reduce tiredness and mood swings in both early and late pregnancy, each expecting mother should consume:
- Vegetables: carrots, asparagus, potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, broccoli, and red sweet peppers (for vitamin A and potassium)
- Fruits: oranges, honeydew, mangoes, lemons, bananas, pears, apples, and grapefruit (for potassium)
- Dairy: fat-free or low-fat yogurt, skim or 1% milk (for calcium, potassium, vitamins A and D)
- Grains: cereals (for iron and folic acid)
- Proteins: beans, nuts, seeds, salmon, trout, herring, sardines, and pollock
Additionally, a balanced and varied diet affects not only your own health but also the short- and long-term health of your baby. By eating enough nutrients, you can minimize the chances of facing stillbirth, low birth weight, and developmental delays for your child.
4. Be Open About Your Mood Swings with the Family
It is not uncommon when a pregnant woman starts crying or yelling unexpectedly, as her well-being is impacted by a variety of factors listed above. However, not all people know about the effect of hormones and stress on an expecting woman. So, make sure to talk to your partner, children (if any), and other family members about it in advance. Warn them that your mood swings are not their fault and it is most likely the result of raging hormones during pregnancy.
If you believe that there is a way to improve your psychological well-being with their help, simply tell your family about it. Do you need a shoulder to cry on? Do you want to talk about a sad commercial and express how it made you feel? Want your partner to show up to medical appointments with you? Tell them about it! Don't forget that your partner can be confused about how pregnancy affects your emotional and physical states, so being open about your feelings is the only way to go.
5. Enjoy Fun Activities
Keep in mind that pregnancy is not a disease, so there is no reason to postpone fun time with your friends and family. Think about the activities you enjoyed before getting pregnant. Was it going to the movies, playing card games, cooking on an outdoor grill, or playing guitar? No matter what it is, keep enjoying it!
Living your usual life is a perfect way to avoid irritability during early pregnancy and feelings of resentment during the last trimester of pregnancy. In turn, if you keep saying "no" to the things you love, the mood swings will most likely take a toll on your health.
6. Take a Childbirth Course
Simultaneously, soon-to-be moms should consider learning more about the pregnancy and childbirth process to reduce stress and anxiety. Instead of reading pregnancy books that are more like long lists of every possible complication, take a childbirth course. When it comes time for labor and birth, that extra knowledge can be a major confidence-booster.
7. Try Pregnancy Yoga Class or Meditation
Yoga and meditation have always been considered a way to reduce anxiety and increase feelings of well-being, especially for pregnant women. In addition to improving psychological health, yoga and meditation are beneficial for lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and increasing flexibility.
Currently, there are numerous free meditation apps online designed for pregnant women. And you can always join a yoga class in real life, although you should ensure this class is suitable for women expecting babies. Contact your doctor in advance to check whether this type of activity can be added to your routine.
When Should I Seek Professional Help?
If you believe that mood swings hamper your ability to function and/or you are perpetually depressed, it is a major sign you should seek psychological help. After all, pregnancy moods and emotions should not become a barrier to a normal life.
Whether you're expecting a first or fifth child, pregnancy is a life-changing experience affecting most aspects of your life. No matter how early in pregnancy you get emotional, you always have the opportunity to talk to a psychologist to avoid prenatal depression and anxiety. The type of therapy can range from voicing your concerns in a support group to individual therapy; it depends on various factors. In the end, a well-experienced psychologist or therapist can help you deal with mood swings and their complications.
A Final Thought
Experiencing emotional ups and downs is completely normal during pregnancy. But they don’t have to control you. Thanks to numerous years and resources dedicated to research in this area, we have a high level of knowledge about the ways to cope and minimize mood swings during pregnancy.
If you’re in the midst of pregnancy, try out a few of the recommendations in this article to help stabilize your mood swings and get prepared for all those rewarding moments that come along with parenthood: bringing your baby into the world, capturing their first smile, hearing their first word, helping them take their first step. It’s all worth it in the end!
Natalie Maximets is a certified life transformation coach with expertise in sustainability and mindfulness and a writer at Online Divorce. She helps people overcome life challenges and build a happier life.