Emotional Changes During Pregnancy

Emotional Changes

Pregnancy is a time of transformation and adjustment that for some can seem like an emotional roller coaster ride.

Becoming a parent is a big step and preparing for the day can require a series of practical yet stressful decisions—such as deciding whether to move or take time from work. Pregnancy can also prompt anxiety, worries about the baby or what kind of parent you will be. While some women are pleased by their changing bodies, others worry they are no longer attractive and lose confidence. All of these stress factors can be intensified if an expectant mother does not get enough rest because she’s either caring for an older child or working long hours.

Then there’s “baby brain,” the general fogginess some women report during pregnancy, which women say makes them forgetful and distracted. Studies have shown that baby brain has a basis in reality. A study in Nature Neuroscience found that neural activity in women’s brains changes during pregnancy and the changes can last for up to two years. Some theorize that this brain reprogramming helps mothers focus on the needs of newborns, but the new sense of fogginess can be disorienting.

The surge of hormones designed to foster a healthy pregnancy may have the most dramatic effect on a woman’s emotional well being.

During the first trimester, levels of human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG rise to help the fertilized egg remain attached to the uterine wall. Progesterone and estrogen also increase throughout the pregnancy to help sustain the growing baby, but this necessary surge can amplify the already complicated emotions expectant mothers feel.

While some women report a sense of contentment during pregnancy, mood swings are common and it’s not unusual for a pregnant women to burst into tears for no apparent reason. Some women who normally suffer anxiety and depression find that their symptoms improve during pregnancy while others report a worsening of symptoms or no change at all.

One intense feeling women have toward the end of pregnancy is the desire to prepare a place for baby, also called the nesting instinct. This can be expressed as cleaning the house, setting up the nursery or stocking the fridge.

Emotional changes don’t necessarily end with delivery. As hormonal levels return to normal, about one in seven women experience postpartum depression, meaning they feel stressed, anxious, lonely and depressed after the baby is born. Not only do the levels of estrogen and progesterone drop shortly after childbirth but the first weeks of caring for a newborn are often exhausting, making it harder for mothers to bounce back. Postpartum depression usually lasts for a few weeks. If it lasts longer, discuss the situation with your doctor, as you might any significant emotional changes during pregnancy. Several antidepressants are considered safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Emotional wellbeing is an important component of a healthy pregnancy and a well-adjusted postpartum period.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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