Strong moods and emotions are common due to changes in hormones during pregnancy. Find out why this happens and how to cope with mood swings in pregnancy.
This article covers:
During pregnancy, the birth of your baby and the postnatal period, changes in the hormones in your body can have an effect on your emotions during pregnancy. Emotional reactions will also inevitably come up when a new baby is added to your family. It’s a good idea for you and your partner to spend a bit of time thinking about the positive and negative emotions that may arise, and perhaps work out some strategies that will help you if feelings become overwhelming.
Women in pregnancy often report that their emotions are ‘up and down’ or ‘all over the place’. Although it is unsettling, it is very common, and probably related both to the hormones in pregnancy and the other changes in your body. With your brain taking on board a huge amount of new information, new responsibilities and changes to your previous routines, it's not surprising that you may experience some complicated emotions during pregnancy. Taking good physical care of yourself, especially plenty of rest and sleep, will help keep the emotions in proportion. Talking to other women or couples may also reveal that you are not alone in your experiences. Joining an antenatal course, or finding a ‘bumps and babies’ group can give you an instant support network.
Very violent or extreme emotions may be a sign of a physical or psychological problem during pregnancy. Hormones or other factors could be at the root of the problem, and your midwife will be able to advise if you need to seek further help.
Some people live their life on a mainly emotional level, and are used to basing their choices and decisions on feeling and instinct. If you are like this, and if healthcare staff ask you to consider a choice and offer recommendations based upon numerical risks, you may find this very difficult. But there are often valid reasons for involving both feelings and facts in a decision, so trying to find a balance, and allowing time for consideration are good approaches.
In contrast, other people may generally prefer to rely on facts and figures for their decision-making, but find pregnancy brings up emotions they have not been used to experiencing. If you find it helpful to take an analytical approach to your feelings, you may like to look at how experts have categorised emotions, and see if yours can be better understood in this way.
Your may experience a number of different emotions during your journey through pregnancy and birth.
Your pregnancy may be a surprise to you, or some of the news that may come with it – such as your midwife telling you that you are expecting twins. Surprises affect people in different ways. Some welcome the spontaneity of finding something new that affects their lives; others prefer to have all events well planned in advance.
Being aware of all the possible outcomes, by reading books or exploring reliable web-based information, will reduce the likelihood of surprise. Even if you normally enjoy the unexpected, it’s a good idea to be ready, in case there are difficult decisions to be made.
The confirmation of a planned and wanted pregnancy often brings feelings of happiness and joy. In a healthy pregnancy you are likely to continue to feel joy and pleasure in your condition, even if you also experience some physical pregnancy discomforts. Some people like to keep photos or diaries to remind them of better times on days when they are feeling down.
Angry feelings can arise as part of the hormonal changes in pregnancy, lead to feeling vulnerable and less secure. They may be directed at your partner and family, colleagues or friends, a health professional or at yourself. You may at times, when pregnant, feel resentful of the heaviness and discomforts you experience.
In labour, some women respond to the painful contractions by aggressive behaviour to their midwife or birth partner. Even when your baby is born, it is not uncommon to have occasional negative feelings, when you feel you have lost your freedom and independence, and the 24-hour demand on your time becomes a burden. Talk to friends or professionals if you are concerned that your feelings after the birth are becoming difficult to cope with.
Probably the most common manifestations of fear around childbirth are genuine concerns related to possible problems with the baby. Worry about having a sick or disabled baby cannot be easily set aside, but being aware of the actual risks should help. Ask your midwife or doctor to explain exactly the chances of any condition you are concerned about, and if you need to take special care to prevent it.
Some women, and perhaps even more so their partners, also fear death in childbirth, but this is rare in the UK, especially if you are accessing the appropriate health services and attending antenatal appointments.
Fear of birth itself is termed ‘tokophobia’ and is recognised as a psychological disorder. If you feel you may suffer from this, it’s likely you’ll be offered the chance of counselling or longer discussion with a specialist midwife or doctor, and this has a good chance of success.
Love, including affection, intimacy and physical desire is strongly connected with the hormone oxytocin; which has been called the ‘hormone of love’. Oxytocin levels promote the contractions of the uterus during labour, but are also present in both mother and baby just after the birth.
A straightforward and drug-free birth contributes to the ‘bonding’ process of delight in each other and a desire for closeness. Complications during the birth can delay that process, and some new mothers worry that they don’t feel overwhelming love for the baby straight away, but it usually ‘kicks in’ very soon.
Sadness can result from disappointment about your plans for the birth or the care of your baby being frustrated by illness or other complications. It’s usually best to try and stay flexible about all your expectations, and keep a ‘plan B’ in mind so that you do not feel you are letting yourself or your baby down completely.
In pregnancy, and after, you may also feel very sensitive to others’ misfortunes, and find yourself affected by news stories. This is also a very normal reaction.
Some of the saddest episodes in people’s lives are related to the death of a baby or child; miscarriage, loss at a later stage of pregnancy or stillbirth can be devastating. This is a profound emotion that may never entirely disappear, but will eventually be lessened with time and good support from family, friends and professionals. You may be offered counselling within the NHS or choose to have this from another provider.
Prolonged sadness can be a symptom of antenatal or postnatal depression, which can be experienced by either a woman or her partner. If you suspect this is the problem, there are many ways you can be helped by health professionals, so ask for advice, or to be referred to a specialist.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
Our #BeyondBabyBlues campaign is encouraging parents to talk more openly about maternal mental health, to avoid the mistake of dismissing potentially serious mental health issues in themselves, friends or family, and to seek help if they need it.
NICE publishes a booklet Mental health problems during pregnancy and after giving birth covering antenatal and postnatal depression.