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Pregnancy Emotions & Mood Swings: Challenges Every New Parent Faces

As a society we tend to focus on the positives of pregnancy; like having a baby, however we must also acknowledge and educate ourselves on the challenges associated with this major life change to normalise them.

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As a society we tend to focus on the positives of pregnancy; like having a baby, however we must also acknowledge and educate ourselves on the challenges associated with this major life change to normalise them.

Is it normal for pregnant women to feel emotional during pregnancy?

The answer to this is YES!

Different mothers experience pregnancy differently in terms of physical changes and emotions; like mood swings.

I just remember one minute crying over a soppy tv show and then being enraged over a empty ice cream container. My partner was often at a loss about how to respond. How can this be normal you may ask? Let’s explain those pregnancy hormones.

Fathers or partners may experience the physical side of pregnancy indirectly, by being alongside their partner, but can also experience challenges with their emotions during this time of huge change. There is new research which suggests that fathers also undergo hormonal changes during pregnancy and as a result can feel emotions more intensely.

Hormones also play a huge role in pregnancy to assist the body to develop the growing foetus and placenta. This causes not only physical changes due to increases in hormones, but also changes to our emotionality.

Changes in hormones then impact our mood and cause mood swings. We can have emotional ups; where we are feeling like we are floating on cloud nine, to suddenly feeling so anxious; especially about our changing body, growing baby and getting this pregnancy right.

It can be overwhelming to keep track of your emotional and physical health. There is a lot to know and so many changes suddenly in your life, including what you can fit into, what you can and cannot eat and dealing with issues like nausea and feeling so tired you fall asleep at work!

Fathers and partners can also experience hormonal and emotional changes during pregnancy and may also be trying to make sense of feelings about becoming a parent.

As parents, you might feel worry about changes in your future, like how adding a baby might change your life and identity, and the uncertainty around how you will manage. At times this may bring fear, anxiety, stress and even dread around how will you cope with the changes that are coming. The combination of these different emotions can feel very confusing if pregnancy was something you always thought you wanted.

Key Highlight

Hormones also play a huge role in pregnancy to assist the body to develop the growing foetus and placenta. This causes not only physical changes due to increases in hormones, but also changes to our emotionality.

Hormonal changes

As a mum, hormonal changes can affect almost every organ system in your body during pregnancy. These changes can trigger symptoms even in the first week. The sudden and dramatic rise in oestrogen and progesterone not only assist the body to develop the growing foetus but it also affects our mood.

Pregnancy emotions, or shall we say pregnancy mood swings, are caused by the hormonal changes our pregnant bodies are going through. For dads, new evidence indicates that testosterone levels reduce over the course of pregnancy and then increase again shortly after birth.

So, you can imagine how managing these physical and emotional changes might impact your relationship at this time as you muddle through this unknown journey together! For mums, hormonal changes through your pregnancy can be guided by the three trimesters – first trimester (conception to 12 weeks), second trimester (12 weeks to 24 weeks) and third trimester (24 weeks to 40 weeks).

pregnant, pregnancy, woman

Trimester by trimester guide

First trimester

In the first trimester of pregnancy, there is a rapid increase of oestrogen and progesterone in your blood as the body begins to prepare to safeguard the pregnancy, which can cause the type of nausea often known as ‘morning sickness’.

It is also the trimester of ‘mood swings’ brought on by pregnancy symptoms. One minute you are feeling so happy and the next you are fuelled with doubt, worry or sadness. It can be quite confronting having those feelings of sadness, worry and fear when all you wanted was to be pregnant. Sometimes it might be hard to communicate such feelings to your partner, as they might be experiencing things differently.

Physical changes in your body, sleep deprivation and fatigue also can affect our mood and our relationship. For mums, your body is going though some big changes; not only is your tummy expanding, your taste, smell, hair, skin and nails may change. This all might be alongside changes to your body temperature and metabolism, breast soreness and growth as well as developing stretch marks (very glamourous).

Some mums can experience severe mood swings, including periods of high anxiety, depressed mood, irritability and/or anger. It is worth knowing that mental health problems can be exacerbated by pregnancy hormone changes. As either a mum or dad who is struggling, give yourself and/or your partner permission to seek support from a health care professional if serious and disruptive symptoms persist through the next trimester.

A parent who has experienced mental health problems in the past, previous miscarriage, conception difficulties or relationship issues may be more susceptible to develop antenatal depression and anxiety. We want you to know that it’s ok to seek further support.

Second trimester

This trimester is known to give mums the ‘pregnancy glow’; you know, where you have the best skin and that ‘glow’ about you. Let’s normalise this. You may feel less nauseous as the morning sickness has subsided, or you may experience ongoing nausea or even severe morning sickness throughout pregnancy, known as Hyperemesis Gravidum (it is as fun as the name sounds – not!). Usually medical treatment is sought to assist with this.

Dads or partners might be feeling more in tune with their pregnant partner (and please offer massages and to cook dinner!) and also feel increasingly paternal and connected to your unborn baby. Mums, your body is still changing and growing, fatigue may be less but getting comfortable in bed is another story – no laying on your tummy now! Partners, please be patient with all the moving around to get comfortable.

Pregnancy hormones are continuing in this trimester and for mums, oestrogen has a role in milk duct production and breast enlargement, getting ready for lactation. The hormonal imbalance slows down in this trimester, and you may feel more energetic as morning sickness subsides, however mood swings may get worse. The following factors may be the cause: body changes, ultrasound scan anxiety, unsolicited advice or information and birth anxiety.

It is also an exciting time as you will feel your baby move and see more on a ultrasound scan. You may even know the baby’s gender by now! Pregnancy can be a wonderful and exciting time for expecting parents, but it’s also important to expect to feel some occasional days of heightened anxiety or low mood.

More ongoing feelings of anxiety are not uncommon, and some mums (and dads) will experience symptoms of a condition called anxiety disorder. Antenatal depression is a mood disorder that includes intense emotional changes, like low mood, beyond those you might expect during pregnancy. It is important to seek help for yourself or your partner if you think you’re experiencing these symptoms.

Key Highlight

Each trimester presents it’s own unique physical and emotional challenges as your body prepares and safeguards for your baby’s birth. Remember, there are ways to help you and your family prepare for pregnancy and the emotional changes that come along with this.

Third trimester

The third trimester can be full of fear and the unknown, with the birth of your baby being so soon. This trimester can continue to be an emotional rollercoaster for parents; one minute you’re looking forward to meeting your baby, and the next you’re full of anxiety and fear about birthing your baby!

You will be attending more appointments to monitor baby’s growth and thinking (maybe together as parents) about a possible birth plan. These aspects of pregnancy can be anxiety provoking and this can be normal, but when we are obsessing over these, including constant worry about baby movements and wellbeing, please seek support.

Those pregnancy hormones are working hard again for mum and bub, with oestrogen and progesterone at an all time high; the highest levels during the pregnancy in fact. Mood swings are (again) normal in this trimester because of those hormone levels. Unexpected crying, even over a cute puppy on the TV (Kleenex I’m blaming you) is very normal!

Dads and partners might find it helpful to know this, instead of just feeling helpless. There are a few more increasing hormones this trimester, including prolactin, which stimulates breast tissue to get ready for lactation as well as oxytocin which assists in birthing your baby.

As mums, your tummy is now quite large, hips are widening and your breasts are huge. Pregnancy comes with a lot of weight, not just from the baby, but also from the amniotic fluid, placenta, breasts, and blood. You may look in the mirror and feel amazed and wonder at this thing you are growing or feel baffled that this is still your body.

All that additional weight can cause back pain and difficulty sleeping, the pressure on the lungs might make it harder to breathe. Some women also experience Braxton Hicks contractions (tightening of muscles in the uterus).

You are trying (maybe struggling?) to find clothes to fit that are comfortable and possibly wondering if you will ever fit back into your old clothes. Fatigue is at an all time high, there may be aches and pains associated with carrying this extra weight and managing your health alongside day-to-day life can be a challenge.

As parents, you may be wondering more and more what you are in for? The nesting instinct may kick in and have you wanting to get ready for the baby’s arrival. All of this can bring about more mixed emotions. You may feel so overjoyed to meet your baby but also have anxiety due to unrealistic expectations. It can be overwhelming trying to be organised for a baby that you haven’t met yet, and trying to feel ready for giving birth despite feeling so fatigued from lack of sleep.

Remember, there are ways to help you and your family prepare for pregnancy and the emotional changes that come along with this.

maternity, mom, baby

Building personal resilience to pregnancy mood swings

Pregnancy is a time of huge transformation for parents in so many ways, including physically, emotionally and mentally. It comes with no rule book and everyone’s experience can be so different; which makes it hard to understand what to expect for your journey. Your mood is very likely to fluctuate a lot and very small things may trigger you emotionally, things that usually would not have this effect.

It is really important to remind yourself that normal is relative for how you will feel during pregnancy; your experience may be very different to that of friends, family or what you see on TV, and this is ok. It is important to be kind to yourself and try to recognise mood swings for what they are and also note that they are not permanent – these feelings will pass.

If they do become ongoing, there is help out there for you as a parent at this time. It may help to try not to have too many expectations, as this is a period in your life where you have even less control than usual.

Practice mental resilience

To help yourself during the ups and downs of pregnancy, it can be helpful to practice mindfulness or ‘live in the moment’, to help with tuning into your body, your mind and your emotions. Doing this helps with becoming better at recognising and tolerating what you are feeling and can actually be applied in an ongoing way throughout life.

You can try whatever works for you in this space; it could be pregnancy yoga (online if you feel self-conscious, there are many free YouTube options), meditation (many great Apps now), going for a walk in nature or simple breathing exercises. For dads or mums not into yoga (don’t worry, my partner doesn’t bend either!) you could try different ways to get your body moving and your mind in the moment; from the gym to running to listening to your favourite tunes.

You may go through some trial and error before finding what suits you, but take time to work this out; your health and wellbeing is worth investing the time and energy into.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

It is so important to eat well for a healthy pregnancy but also for our own health in general. We understand far more now about how much digestion can influence moods and emotions, so it is really important to nourish your body, starting with diet. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet with fresh and unprocessed ingredients and pregnant mums are encouraged to consult with your antenatal care provider (your GP, hospital, obstetrician, etc) to make sure you are absorbing enough iron. It might be a great prompt for any non-pregnant partners to also get a health check, as both of you are preparing yourselves to care for a whole new human, and your ability to do this starts with your own self-care.

Prioritise sleep

This extends to getting enough and good quality sleep. There is a range of physical and emotional benefits related to this and any parent will tell you how much better you feel after a good sleep. This can be practising good ‘sleep hygiene’ by minimising screen time before bed, using night mode/blue light filters on devices or keeping routine bedtime and waking up times. A consistent bedtime routine might include having a shower, brushing teeth then reading a book in bed in the same order each night, so your body gets to recognise this winding down process. This type of habit will also actually be helpful for when baby comes along; although prepare for some disruption at first!

Be kind to yourself

It is also incredibly important to be kind and patient with yourself as an expecting parent and hopefully this can extend to your partner (if one is in the picture). Historically, we’ve been led to believe that the process to becoming a parent is natural and therefore easy. This may be the case for some expectant parents, but most parents I talk to experience a huge range of overwhelming emotions and not all of these feel ‘good’ or ‘normal’.

Becoming a parent is likely to be the most significant thing that you do, and feeling overwhelmed or even terrified about this seems fair enough, almost a strength in some ways. Let me explain; if you are worried about becoming a parent, doing it right, scared of the changes in your life and how you will cope, then you are actually preparing yourself mentally for this transformation. And you seem to recognise that bringing a new human into the world and then keeping them safe is a huge responsibility which shouldn’t be taken lightly.

If however, feelings of anxiety, hopelessness or despair become too overwhelming and ongoing, then it might be time to consider that you need some help. You don’t have to go on feeling this way and there are options and people out there who can support you.

Prenatal appointments

Being prepared and supported for anything that comes during your pregnancy is key for building resiliency to the hard knocks.

The appointments are a ‘check in’ and typically start at 6 weeks pregnant and continue every 2-3 weeks until about 36 weeks. Be sure to attend (bring a supportive friend if that helps!) and be vocal about the issues that may be concerning you, no matter how small they may seem at the time.

During each prenatal appointment, your doctor will examine you and discuss any questions or concerns you might have about your pregnancy, labor and delivery. Your doctor will also check your weight, blood pressure and urine, and may perform various tests such as an ultrasound or biophysical profile.

Find support in family, friends, partners and other pregnant women

There is an old saying – ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. It is really important to access or create your village as an expectant parent. Having a baby was never meant to be a solo activity and it is ok, great even for your baby, if you ask for help.

If you have a partner during pregnancy, it is likely to be really helpful to talk to them about what you are feeling, and hear about their feelings as well. These feelings don’t need to align for you to be able to support each other, you just need to aim to be non-judgmental and accepting of each other’s experience. And when those hormones kick in and you argue over the most ridiculous thing, this is ok as long as you talk about it when you have calmed down and repair this bump in the road.

If you don’t have a partner or one you can talk to, reach out to your family members, friends or other women through a mothers group to find you’re indeed not alone in going through those experiences.

It may also be important to think about how you and your baby can connect to your culture or community; which might be more broad than immediate family. Your own parents, parent figures or elders, may be a wealth of knowledge.

You will receive advice from many people throughout your parenting journey. Some might be helpful and some won’t apply to you at all, and that’s ok. Go with what feels right to you, your baby, your pregnancy and your partner.

prenatal appointment,

When you might need more support with your mental health

We have touched on this throughout this pregnancy journey break down. Mood swings, big emotions, crying and feeling anger in particular can all be ‘normal’ during pregnancy. Emotions like fear or sadness can feel uncomfortable, but these are important and life saving emotions for us to experience. Sadness helps with processing difficult life events in a way that is healthy in the longer term (tears actually have a natural sedative in them) while fear can help save our life at times when we need to act immediately; think fight or flight (or even freeze) responses.

It is when feelings of fear, panic attacks or intrusive thoughts become so intense, ongoing and/or are not relevant to our immediate environment that these become problematic. When feelings of sadness or despair are so overwhelming and continuing that they impact day-to-day life, it might be time to reach out for some support.

Key Highlight

It’s normal to have concerns about pregnancy and labour, even if you feel like everyone around you seems confident and certain that they know what to expect. Birth is a unique experience for each woman. Some might find it close to what they expected, while others may be surprised by the intensity of the physical sensations and emotional duress during pregnancy.

Prenatal depression

This is a form of depression that occurs during pregnancy and can have both physical and emotional symptoms. There is an increased risk for prenatal depression in women who have had a history of depression or bipolar disorder. If a pregnant woman is suffering from prenatal depression, it could potentially interfere with her ability to bond with her unborn child, which could lead to postpartum depression once the baby is born.

Prenatally depressed women typically have an anxiety around self-reporting their condition, which can lead to a negative spiral of outcomes that affect both the mother and the baby. Prenatal depression is also a leading indicator of postnatal depression, which can affect the mother up to a year after birth.

Conclusion

So many people will experience struggles with their mental health over their lifetime, many at the time they start to become parents. It is so important that you consider whether or when this might be you and take steps needed to recover. If you broke a bone, you would not put off getting medical help to repair this, so why would we not prioritise our mental health in the same way?

It can be really hard to know where to even start at these times of emotional struggle, and that is why programs like ForWhen are so crucial for people to be able to access. You don’t have to have all the answers as expecting parents yourself, you just need to be able to reach out and we can help you find them.

For additional support, your doctor can be a great first step when discussing mental health. A GP can assess your symptoms and refer you accordingly for support.

Frequently Asked Questions

See below our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions we receive about pregnancy emotions.

How early can mood swings appear in pregnancy?
Which trimester is the most emotional?
What emotions do you feel when pregnant?
When should I seek support with my emotions?
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