Managing Mood Swings

How to cope with ups and downs during pregnancy.

It is very normal to experience highs and lows during pregnancy. Your unpredictable and unsettling changes in mood are due to rapid changes in pregnancy-related hormones. Feelings of anger, depression, and/or anxiety are common and can come in waves, but they usually do not last for prolonged periods of time.

Other mood changes are your way of processing and coping with the stresses of being pregnant. For example, as your body changes during pregnancy (weight gain, physical discomfort, problems sleeping, etc.), you are faced with the challenge of coping with these stressors. Some women welcome physical changes, but many women respond with frustration, anxiety, and sometimes even sadness.

Pregnancy can also put tremendous stress on your relationship. For example, it's very normal for women to experience a decrease in libido. This may cause tension in your relationship, resulting in feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, and frustration for both you and your partner.

Mood swings tend to appear in the first trimester when hormone changes are at their peak. This will subside in the second trimester but can reappear in the third trimester when physical body changes, fatigue, and discomfort are at their peak. Triggers such as heartburn, insomnia, and frequent urination may also cause your emotions to run wild.

The most important way to cope with mood changes is to focus on taking care of your physical and emotional health. How can you do this?

  • Create a healthy regimen. Sleep deprivation, morning sickness, and a poor diet decrease your ability to cope with stress or manage fluctuations in your mood. It's a good idea to nap during the day and go to bed early. If your morning sickness is persistent, consult your doctor. There are FDA-approved medications that can decrease nausea and vomiting.
  • Relax. Yes, there is a lot to do before the baby comes, but make sure you take time for yourself. Schedule a spa day or just a relaxing day for yourself. Try to do activities that help you decompress. Go for a walk or do some meditation or yoga.
  • Communicate. Talking things out with your partner or a close friend can help. Talking with someone who will not judge your feelings, but who will listen to your concerns and validate your fears, can alleviate stress. Share the experiences you are going through with this person. Hopefully, he or she will be able to support you, give you insight on how to get through the tough times, and help alleviate some of the burdens you have. Allow your partner to share his or her feelings, too.
  • Exercise. Most women can continue to exercise at their pre-pregnancy level. Exercise can help with your mood and may relieve some of the physical discomforts of pregnancy. Consult with your doctor to ensure your level of activity is appropriate and safe.

When should you consult a doctor?

If feelings of sadness or anxiety are interfering with your daily life, it may be time to consult with your doctor and/or a mental health professional. If you experienced depression or anxiety prior to pregnancy, you are at a higher risk for relapse during pregnancy or in the post-partum period. Here is a list of symptoms you should not ignore:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety
  • Changes in your appetite or weight
  • Insomnia or an increase in sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating or racing thoughts
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Isolation
  • Irritability or difficulty managing feelings of anger
  • Suicidal ideation

Anxiety and depression during pregnancy are treatable, and there is help for relief. Research indicates that counseling and medication can help reduce or eliminate symptoms. Do not ignore your symptoms. Talk to trusted friends, and if feelings of anxiety or sadness persist, talk with your doctor.