“Plenty of attention is given to the physical changes and discomforts in a woman's body during pregnancy, but the emotional changes she could be experiencing may not always get discussed. In addition to her physical health, a woman's emotional well-being and her mental outlook can also play important roles in pregnancy.”
During the nine months, a woman's moods and emotions can range from the highs of feeling overjoyed and excited about having a baby to the lows of feeling impatient, worried and terrified as the delivery and motherhood approaches. Pregnancy can also bring up other issues, such as difficult family relationships, insecurities and unrealistic personal expectations, which may have previously been suppressed or ignored. In many ways it's helpful that a woman and her partner have almost a year to adjust to the realities of becoming parents.
Pregnancy is a huge transition in a woman's life, and it involves a complex mix of emotions, both good and bad. At the body level, the hormones estrogen and progesterone are ramping up, and some women are more sensitive to progesterone changes and this may make them more irritable.
There are also practical concerns when bringing a new life into this world, such as being prepared financially for an addition to the family or living on one income, if a woman decides not to work outside the home.
Pregnancy can be an exciting time but it's also very stressful, and that can cause emotions to run high. It is advised that women should be aware of their thoughts and feelings, and also find a place to talk about them and work through them. Here are some common emotions a woman may experience during her pregnancy and after she delivers:
Pregnancy is a transition point in a woman's life and during any time of transition, a person's emotions can be up and down. Whether it's described as moodiness, irritability or crabbiness, pregnancy can bring a roller coaster of emotions. Some women's emotions don't change that much when they are expecting, but it's not unusual for women to have mood swings, especially during the early and late stages of pregnancy.
It's not entirely clear why these mood changes occur because a number of different changes are happening in a woman's body at this time, and they are all tied in to her emotions. One probable reason may be a flood of hormones. Some women are sensitive to changes in estrogen, while others are affected by increases in progesterone or rising levels of stress hormones.
Fear is another common emotion during pregnancy. In the first trimester, a woman might be afraid of having a miscarriage or doing something that will affect her baby's health; in her second trimester, she might start to question whether she will be a good mother and be frightened by the enormous responsibilities of caring for a newborn. By the end of her pregnancy, a woman might be scared of the pain of labor or that something could go wrong during delivery.
Having some fear is normal, but a woman needs to recognize when a fear is getting stuck in her head or whether she can cope with it.
Often anxiety and fear can go hand in hand and the fear of uncertainty that often comes with pregnancy can lead to anxious thoughts.
Anxiety is a normal emotion and people have it for a reason. On a biological level, both the anxiety and fear systems in the brain ramp up during pregnancy, which helps make sure that a woman keeps her baby safe, cared for and protected after she gives birth. If a woman has had anxiety in the past, she is more at risk of having it during her pregnancy because of the high levels of stress going on.
The mental fogginess and occasional memory lapses that cause a woman's keys to be misplaced and cell phone to go missing has sometimes been described as "pregnancy brain" or "baby brain." (These same symptoms are referred to as "mommy brain" or "momnesia" after giving birth.)
Some research has suggested that fuzzy thinking and forgetfulness before and after birth may be a result of hormonal fluctuations, especially higher levels of progesterone, sleep deprivation or the stress of adjusting to a major life transition.
There's some evidence that the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory, may change during pregnancy. With all that's going on in a woman's body and mind when she is pregnant, it makes sense that she may not be remembering some things, but it might be that a mother-to-be is prioritizing things differently and doing more multitasking.
Some women may find themselves crying at a sappy pet commercial, bursting into tears after throwing up in early pregnancy, or getting misty eyed after looking at baby clothes.
Women may cry more easily and frequently when they're expecting and in the early stages of new motherhood because pregnancy involves a complex mix of emotions, and as humans, sometimes tearfulness is how our emotions come out, and such fluctuating hormone levels may contribute to crying spells.
If a woman has been crying a lot and it doesn't seem to let up, it may be a symptom of depression.
Body image issues
During the second and third trimesters, as a woman's baby bump becomes more visible and she gains more weight, she may feel dissatisfied with her body and its appearance, and this may affect her self-esteem.
Some pregnant women marvel at their rapidly changing bodies and feel radiant and vibrant, while others worry about the weight gain and regaining their figures after delivering. These changes to a woman's looks, shape and perceived attractiveness may bring up a complicated mix of feelings.
Research has shown that there are changes in the brain of pregnant women wherein towards the end of pregnancy, the reward system in the brain ramps up in preparation for the baby's arrival, and this helps make parenting a rewarding experience.
There are also social activities and preparations for motherhood, such as attending a baby shower, baby-proofing the house and decorating the nursery, which can all lead to a nesting instinct. Some women may feel a strong urge to cook, clean and organize during the third trimester as a way to mentally prepare for the major changes a new baby will bring and to feel more in control of the situation.
It was once thought that being pregnant was protective against depression and also prevented other psychiatric illnesses because of high estrogen levels, but now its known that this is not the case. A pregnant woman has a similar risk of becoming depressed as a woman who is not having a baby.
The postpartum period is a particularly vulnerable time for women, especially for depression. The risk for postpartum depression may increase due to a sharp drop in estrogen and progesterone after giving birth and also because a new mother may not be sleeping or eating well.
In the first few days after giving birth, up to 80 percent of women may experience the "baby blues," which includes symptoms such as feeling sad, anxious, moody, weepy or overwhelmed, difficulty sleeping and a lack of appetite. These symptoms usually go away two weeks after delivering.
But if a woman has more severe symptoms that last more than two weeks, such as feeling numb, extremely sad or angry, or lacking interest in her baby, or she is having thoughts that life is not worth living or of hurting her baby, she needs to reach out and seek help. These are all signs of postpartum depression. Mothers who have just had a baby need to make time for self-care, whether that means taking a shower or going for a walk. What's really important when taking care of others is to make sure a woman builds in some time to take care of herself.
For women who are experiencing depression or anxiety before or after their baby is born, there is a mix of treatments for these medical conditions, including talk therapy, support groups as well as safe medications.
How can you manage such emotions?
Try to remind yourself that emotional upheaval is normal right now. That said, making a conscious effort to nurture yourself can help you stay on an even keel during turbulent times.
Take it easy. Resist the urge to tackle as many chores as you can before the baby comes. You may think you need to stencil bunnies on the nursery walls, reorganize all the closets, or put in serious overtime before going on maternity leave, but you don't. Put yourself at the top of your to-do list instead. After all, pampering yourself is an essential part of taking care of your baby.
Bond with your partner. Expressing how you're feeling while reassuring your partner of your love will go a long way toward nurturing your relationship. Make sure you're spending plenty of time together, and even go on a vacation if you can. Strengthen your connection now, so you can really be there for one another after the baby comes.
Do something that makes you feel good. This might mean carving out some special time for you and your partner. Or it might mean taking time alone to do something just for you: Take a nap, go for a walk, get a prenatal massage, or see a movie with a friend.
Talk it out. Air your worries about the future with understanding friends. Just putting your concerns into words often helps you get a handle on them or gives you insight into solutions. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your partner, and make it a two-way street: In addition to pouring out your feelings, listen to your partner, too.
Manage your stress. Rather than let the frustration in your life build up, find ways to decompress. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, exercise, and have some fun. Identify sources of stress in your life and change what you can, such as trimming your to-do list. If you still find that anxiety is creeping in, try taking a pregnancy yoga class, practicing meditation or other relaxation techniques, or consulting a professional counselor.
What if I can't shake my moodiness?
If your mood swings are becoming more frequent or more intense, or if they last longer than two weeks, talk to your practitioner and ask for a referral to a counselor. If you notice that your anxiety is interfering with your ability to function in your daily life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. And if your mood swings become more frequent and intense, you may have bipolar disorder, a condition in which you alternate between periods of depression and mania.
If you suspect that you have any of these conditions, it's crucial to get professional help and treatment while you're pregnant because any untreated emotional health problems can affect your baby's physical well-being and increase your risk of preterm labor and postpartum depression. Both psychotherapy and medication can be very effective for treating these conditions so that you and your baby can be well during pregnancy and afterward.