Valerie L. Sizelove
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Freelance writer, mom of four.

It’s no secret that pregnant women go through a lot emotionally. Crying, yelling, shopping, planning, working and growing can all take a huge toll on a soon-to-be mom’s mental health. This is a time of great change in every pregnant woman’s life, and mood swings are unfortunately a big part of the equation.

Overview of pregnancy mood swings and hormones.

Mood swings during pregnancy are common. It’s normal for pregnant women to feel excitement, fear, sadness, frustration and other emotions periodically. There’s a lot going on! Your brain is trying to prepare for this new person, you’re tired and your body is changing by extreme measures. Hormones are also fluctuating to help your body create your child. But these hormone changes come with side effects.

The major culprits when it comes to pregnancy mood swings are estrogen and progesterone. These hormones need to be kept in balance with each other because they work together to regulate serotonin levels. Anxiety and irritability are associated with high levels of estrogen. Progesterone is associated with relaxation and sadness. It helps the body relax during pregnancy to make room for fetal growth.

HCG is another pregnancy hormone, produced in your thyroid, that goes through big changes, too. Then, toward the end of pregnancy, oxytocin comes into play. It affects your mood as well. With so many hormones helping prepare your body and baby for birth, it’s no wonder pregnant women feel moody at times. Understanding the cause of your mood swings and how they will change throughout your pregnancy can help.

Mood swings and hormones by the trimester.

Mood swings happen mostly during the first and third trimesters, when hormones are rapidly fluctuating. Here’s a look at how different hormones affect your mood throughout the entire pregnancy:

First trimester (weeks 1-12).

It might not seem like it, but there’s a lot going on in your body during the first trimester. As soon as you become pregnant, all kinds of hormones quickly surge to high levels. One that may impact your mood is progesterone, which rises throughout the trimester and peaks at the end. Progesterone is known to cause tiredness and sadness in pregnant women.

Another hormone is human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Also abundant in the first trimester, this hormone helps the body carry out the early pregnancy processes. It’s also believed to be the cause of morning sickness, which could be causing you undue stress. 

Second trimester (weeks 13-26).

Many women report feeling “better” during the second trimester of pregnancy. Hormone fluctuations seem to calm down during this time. Morning sickness often decreases, women can get better sleep, they’re less tired and they have less breast tenderness. Progesterone and estrogen are still present at high levels, but they’ve become more balanced, which alleviates symptoms. HCG levels have also decreased. 

This is also the time when many women share their pregnancy publicly, and their bumps begin to show. Seeing your baby bump makes everything feel more real and tangible, rather than in the first trimester when you only had test results and your doctor’s word. Another bonus is the added benefit of a higher sex drive. These benefits all work together to decrease the level of mood swings in pregnant women during the second trimester.

Third trimester (weeks 27-40+).

Progesterone again begins to rise in the 32nd week of pregnancy because it helps prevent preterm birth. Because of this, fatigue and sadness may show up again. Another hormone, oxytocin begins to increase during the final weeks and days of pregnancy. Oxytocin is associated with nesting and euphoria behaviors in expectant mothers about to deliver. 

Being uncomfortable and in pain during this time can affect your moods, too. A third hormone at play, relaxin, relaxes your joints and ligaments during the third trimester to make room for the growing baby. Unfortunately, the cartilage in your pelvic joints can become too loose, causing conditions called pelvic girdle pain (PGP) and symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD). These are extremely painful, and it can feel like your hips are being torn apart. 

How to cope with mood swings while pregnant.

Sleep.

Sleep is of utmost importance, but it can feel elusive during pregnancy. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re low on fuel, and your mood swings can become substantially worse. Do what it takes to ensure you’re getting the amount of quality rest your growing body needs. This could mean developing a better bedtime routine, taking long and guilt-free naps or asking your healthcare provider about an appropriate, safe sleep medication.

Exercise.

This is yet another important need for pregnant women (unless they’re on bed rest due to a complication). Daily exercise, such as a brisk walk or a prenatal exercise video, keeps your blood pumping and clears your mind for a moment. Exercise has been proven to help with mental health and helps you keep your body in tip-top pregnancy shape. It’ll keep your weight at a healthy level, meaning it won’t be as frustrating and uncomfortable of a pregnancy than it would if you were sedentary.

Breathing.

It seems like one of the oldest tricks in the book. But seriously, deep breathing can work wonders on a tense mind. It increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and throughout your body, which can help you feel physically better and lower your heart rate. You can find all kinds of relaxation breathing exercises online or work on some labor breathing techniques. Then, you’ll also be preparing for the big day.

Self-care.

Take care of you, Mama. During pregnancy, it can often seem like all the focus is on the baby. Meanwhile, the mom, who’s doing all the hard baby-growing work, can begin to feel like she’s stretched too thin. You might be taking care of other children, working your butt off or just dealing with the stress of preparing for a baby. Each of those things drains your energy, and it’s just as important to spend time on yourself. Take a bubble bath. Get your nails done. Get a full-body massage from a professional or your significant other.  

Support system.

Pregnancy is too much to handle on your own. Lean on your family, your partner, your friends and your community for support during this important time. Share your moods and feelings with someone you trust, just to get them out into the universe. Go to programs aimed at helping pregnant women. Talk to other moms about their experiences during pregnancy. Keeping everything inside and isolating yourself will only make pregnancy mood swings feel worse.

When to seek professional help.

While it’s completely normal to experience fluctuations in your mood during pregnancy, it shouldn’t be something you live with every day. Many pregnant women don’t recognize the serious signs of anxiety and depression. If your mood swings persist for longer than two weeks at a time or just don’t seem to be getting better, it’s time to see a healthcare professional.

Prenatal (or antenatal) depression and anxiety often start during pregnancy and continue after the baby is born (when they become postpartum depression). It’s important to recognize the possibility of these conditions as early as possible to protect the health of both mother and baby. You may need to start speaking with a counselor or taking pregnancy-safe medication to manage your symptoms.

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Valerie Sizelove is a freelance writer of blog posts, career guides and more. Her specialties lie in writing about mental health, careers and parenting. When she's not writing up a storm, you might find Valerie cooking a huge dinner for her family of 6 or tinkering around in her amateur vegetable garden. Books are pretty good, too. You can find her on LinkedIn and Facebook. 

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