We’ve all heard about pregnancy mood swings — and while they might be joked about, they make total sense. “I think of the combination of biological, psychological, and social/relational changes someone is experiencing, and they are all quite overwhelming!” Nikki Lively, LCSW, Clinical Director of the Transitions to Parenthood Program at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, tells Refinery29.
Pregnant people’s bodies go through intense changes. “Each trimester has its unique physical challenges, with increased fatigue, nausea, hunger or lack of hunger, and disturbed sleep being the most common throughout, as well as increased physical pain and discomfort towards the end of the pregnancy, in particular,” Lively says. Hormonal changes, she adds, can increase mood swings for some , and stabilize moods for others. “It all depends on each person’s sensitivities to hormones (usually how someone has responded during their menstrual cycles will give a clue as to the sensitivity levels to hormonal fluctuations).”
On top of all the physical changes, pregnant people may be worried about the pain of labor , gaining weight or pregnancy acne. Additionally, pregnancy can affect a person’s relationship with their partner (if they have one), too. Along with libido changes, pregnancy can add stress about the future. “The pregnancy often throws that relationship into a whole new level of commitment that needs to be negotiated. Not to mention there are so many new things that need to be discussed – how will we parent together? How do we want (or don’t want) our families to be involved? These conversations can be difficult, as both parties will likely have strong feelings about these subjects,” Lively adds. Additionally, relationships with friends, family, and coworkers may change as well. “When you stop to think about it, it’s no wonder women have mood swings while pregnant!” Lively says.
If you’re experiencing pregnancy mood swings, first, know that you’re totally normal — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. “My best advice is to use pregnancy as a time to develop and cultivate a self-compassion practice,” Lively says. She suggests following guidance set forth by Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself: 1) acknowledge your mood, 2) know you’re not alone in feeling the same way, and 3) offer yourself comfort and reassurance. “One last step I would add to this process is to ask yourself, what is the need underneath the mood?” Lively adds. “The most common thing pregnant people need is someone that cares about and understands what they are going through (though rest, movement, and a nice milkshake are also high on the list during this time).”
Along with mood swings, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 52% percent of women who have been pregnant reported increased anxiety or depression while pregnant. Everyone can benefit from therapy during pregnancy, Lively says, but it’s a particularly good idea for those who have a history of depression or anxiety in their own life or in their family history; have a history of traumatic experiences, particularly sexual abuse or assault or childhood abuse or neglect; current relationship distress; or are feeling socially isolated.
“Lastly, if you notice any troubling or unusually pessimistic thoughts (including feeling suicidal or not feeling like life is worth it) that go along with your mood and tend to persist for longer than a day or two, it could be a sign that you need more support from a psychotherapist who understands perinatal people and their unique mental health needs during the transition to parenthood,” Lively says. “The transition to parenthood is so profound that everyone could benefit from talking to a therapist about it. So it never hurts, no matter what your circumstances, to connect with a mental health professional that can help you understand and process all these changes.”
Every pregnancy is different, so someone who experienced very few mood swings during their first pregnancy might experience more intense mood swings during their second or third pregnancy. “Practice being gentle with yourself – if there was ever a time to be ‘moody’ and have a shorter fuse this would be the time,” Lively says. “Surround yourself with people who understand this, and are patient and understanding, and who will help you figure out what’s going on vs. judge you for being more emotional right now.”
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.