Managing the emotional challenges of pregnancy

Emotional ups and downs are normal during a time of tremendous changes

Pregnant woman looking at her belly by bookshelf.

Take comfort in the fact that there likely isn’t a mother anywhere — including yours — who didn’t have some emotional ups and downs during pregnancy.

It’s a time of tremendous changes, and many questions can creep in. What if my baby isn’t healthy? What if I lose my baby? What if I’m not as good a parent as I want to be? What if delivery is more painful than I can stand? What if I don’t recuperate quickly and have to go back to work before I’m ready? What if I end up responsible for raising this child alone?

And so those worrisome thoughts go, creeping in at inopportune moments and taking you down with them.

What are these feelings?

You may be surprised to hear this, but many people cite changing emotions as one of the most common side effects during pregnancy. It’s frustrating, even exhausting, to hit so many highs and lows, sometimes all in the same day. You maybe don’t even know which emotion you feel or why you are feeling it.

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Additionally, hormonal shifts, interrupted sleep and other pregnancy related factors can make you emotional, forgetful and sluggish.

Trying to identify the emotion and understand the reason may help. For instance, starting a family is a joyous occasion, but it brings both positive and negative stress. You may find yourself more worried about your future, finances, employment, medical care and other things important to your family stability. The resulting stress contributes to emotional outbreaks.

Fear is another common feeling. In the first trimester, every unpredictable body change may make you worry something is negatively affecting your baby’s health or can cause a miscarriage. As the pregnancy progresses, fear changes: you start to question other things like whether you can take care of a baby or whether something disastrous might happen during the baby’s delivery. The many things you lack control of during a pregnancy contribute to fearful thoughts that can become overwhelming.

Regulating pregnancy emotions

Unless you are one of those rare people who doesn’t experience a lot of emotional swings during pregnancy, you are probably on the roller coaster until your baby is born. But there are things you can do to make the ride more enjoyable and less bumpy.

  1. Educate your partner. You and your partner don’t know what to expect, especially if this is your first pregnancy. You can share what you read and discuss in advance, rather than in the heat of the moment. Pregnancy seems to be typically accompanied by highs and lows. Your partner needs to keep in mind your highs and lows are not logical and not personal. Ask them to support you and be patient through these moments. You and your partner both need to understand how you felt and responded to certain things in the past may not be the same way you respond during pregnancy.
  2. Realize that physical discomfort can contribute to feeling low. Morning sickness, fatigue, breast tenderness and other physical discomforts during pregnancy can make your tolerance level lower for little irritations. Depending on your body image and expectations, you may feel less physically attractive as you observe body changes. Try to get more rest and use whatever means you can find to decrease your focus on your physical discomfort and self-esteem.
  3. Allow for hormonal changes. During pregnancy, women experience an increase in the production of hormones, such as progesterone and estrogen. This increase can impact your emotions and your brain’s ability to monitor them. While hormones are not the only cause of emotional swings, they do contribute to moments or days that make life even more challenging. People find themselves dissolving into tears at things that would have left them unmoved pre-pregnancy. People who would define themselves as patient snap irritably at their partner over petty things. Remind yourself that these changes in your mood are temporary and talk positively to yourself to return to a calmer state of mind.
  4. Get plenty of rest. Many people have trouble sleeping well during pregnancy. Lack of sleep is proven to have a major impact on emotions. Some people say they have wild dreams, or their changing body prevents them from finding comfortable resting positions. Do what you can to help sleep come: keep the room a comfortable temperature, keep it dark, and do relaxation exercises and/or deep breathing before sleep. Experiment with sleeping positions and let your partner know if you are having difficulty sleeping. The two of you can work together to see that you get the sleep you need.
  5. Eat right. Healthy eating will help with your moods. Consuming healthy, nutritional, non-processed foods will give you better emotional stability as well as improving physical and mental health.
  6. Make time for yourself. Soak in the bathtub. Read a book purely for pleasure. Get a pedicure or massage. Choose the kind of activities that make you feel relaxed and do them.
  7. Prepare where you can. Well before your due date, you and your partner should take childbirth classes to prepare for labor and delivery. People who are prepared have less fear and pain.
  8. Enjoy social activities, but pace yourself. Baby showers, decorating the nursery, shopping for baby clothes and similar activities can all be part of the enjoyment of pregnancy. But don’t push yourself to the limit. Balance your days with rest and relaxation too.
  9. Accept that it is OK to be nervous. Some women desperately want a child but are terrified of childbirth. Some desperately want a child but are terrified that they won’t be a good enough mother. Whatever the fear, learning to express it and talk through it can help you better manage it. Look for someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to openly, someone who will listen and allow you to vent. If your fears are overwhelming, make an appointment with a professional therapist.
  10. Know when to ask for help. About 10% of women are affected by depression during and after pregnancy. If you are overwhelmed by your worries, feel too low to keep up your normal activities, or you have thoughts of suicide, talk to your doctor immediately or call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 988.

For more resources, read books that can help you through this journey. A couple with information on pregnancy’s emotional side include: “Excited, Exhausted, Expecting: The Emotional Life of Mothers-to-Be” by Arlene Modica Matthews and “Understanding Your Moods When You’re Expecting: Emotions, Mental Health and Happiness” by Dr. Lucy Puryear. Your local library and bookstore are good places to check.

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Posted In Behavioral Health, Health Information, Pregnancy, Women's