Pregnancy can be a time of wildly fluctuating emotions. As you and your body navigate the physical changes of growing a human—not to mention a healthy dose of pregnancy hormones—it’s not out of the ordinary for your mood to feel a little all over the place or more magnified than normal. How that manifests might look different from day to day, and from person to person. Many people feel more emotionally vulnerable—they may cry more easily or feel more tender. Other folks may be quicker to feel irritable or angry. All can be normal, and each pregnancy is very different when it comes to emotional changes.
Pregnancy hormones: What to expect each trimester
For many, the first trimester feels the most emotionally heightened. Not only are your pregnancy hormones kicking into gear, but you’re also navigating the start of a major new chapter—which can feel exciting, overwhelming, and even a little stressful.
Physically, progesterone and estrogen levels soar during your first trimester, as do pregnancy-specific hormones like Human chorionic gonadotropin (or hCG) and Human placental lactogen (hPL). This cocktail of hormones supports baby’s growth throughout your pregnancy, but it can also be the culprit behind physical symptoms like morning sickness, fatigue, and, yes—mood swings.
These symptoms are often more pronounced in early pregnancy because your placenta is still forming—it eventually “takes over” in producing the pregnancy hormones that support your baby’s growth.
The placenta takes over hormone production between weeks 10 and 12, and hCG levels began to decrease, while progesterone and estrogen start to level out a bit, too. As a result, most women experience relief from morning sickness by the start of their second trimester—and many notice a boost in energy and mood, too.
Estrogen and progesterone levels peak during the third trimester (around week 32, to be specific), up to 6 times higher than pre-pregnancy. For some women, this can lead to an increase in mood swings—as can the physical discomforts of late-stage pregnancy, and the anticipation of your baby’s arrival.
After birth, hormone levels shift drastically: Estrogen and progesterone dip, while oxytocin (the “bonding” hormone) and prolactin (our breastfeeding milk production hormone) go into high gear. These major chemical changes often have a marked impact on our mood and emotions—in fact, “baby blues” affect up to 80% of new mothers in the first few days postpartum. These emotional changes can last up to two weeks, and can be exacerbated by the lack of sleep and all the demands of those early newborn days. If you’re feeling really low or you find that your magnified emotions are lasting well beyond that two-week period, it’s a good idea to seek out professional support.
How to support a balanced mood during pregnancy
The bottom line? Mood and hormonal changes are just another natural part of a healthy pregnancy—but we also know that it can all feel like a lot to handle. That’s why it’s all the more essential to give yourself support and lay a strong foundation for your well-being through a few healthy lifestyle shifts. Let’s break down some key habits below:
- Optimize your diet. Ensuring that your blood sugar levels are balanced is especially crucial during pregnancy, as imbalances can be a major contributor to mood swings. Most pregnant women will feel their best when they eat something every two to three hours, with a focus on getting protein, fats, and more complex carbohydrates. (Psst: These are the foods a dietitian recommends eating during your first trimester.)
- Prioritize sleep. Getting adequate sleep can be challenging during pregnancy. Listening to your body, especially when it comes to fatigue, can be a new experience to women who are used to pushing through when they are tired. But during your pregnancy, prioritize sleeping eight to ten hours each night and nap if needed. Doing so is essential for an optimal mood.
- Move your body (if it’s safe to do so!) Prioritizing regular exercise throughout your pregnancy can be a great way to process stress and relieve anxiety. Even walks and gentle stretches are enough, although if you are used to intense exercise, most people can safely do so. Just check in with your physician to be sure, and remember to balance any increased activity with additional food and rest.
- Build your support system. Oftentimes pregnancy can bring up lots of questions and concerns about relationships, the division of responsibilities, or parenting philosophies. Now is a great time to discuss, plan, and work towards open and honest communication about expectations and needs. If needed, a couples therapist can be a great addition. It is also important to realize that if you feel like these types of emotions are dominating your pregnancy or impacting the overall quality of life, you should bring them up with your healthcare provider or see a therapist specializing in perinatal mental health.
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2 Perinatal Mental Health. ACOG.
3 Yelverton, C., Rafferty, A., & Mcauliffe, F. M. (2021). Diet for mental health in pregnancy: Nutrients of importance based on large observational cohort data. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 224(2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2020.12.457