I was sitting in the parent pick-up line, waiting to get my big kids from school, and willing my little kids to please fall asleep, so I could eat my Hot Pockets sandwich in peace when the playlist rotated to a song from their favorite cartoon.
The song was about friendship – I’d heard it a million times – but, I just happened to be pregnant this time. And I started sobbing.
My kids were confused about why I was crying, and I was right there with them, completely confused.
What is Happening
The juxtaposition of different emotions during pregnancy can be alarmingly drastic! The fluctuating phenomenon is called “mood swings” because you are “swinging” back and forth, feeling high and low, and pregnancy is fraught with this.
You can go from laughing to crying and then back to laughing in minutes. Often, these mood swings don’t seem to be prompted by anything significant … if you can find what prompted them at all!
Pregnancy is a big deal. Your body is experiencing drastic changes at a remarkable pace. These changes are physical, as your belly grows, but you can also feel these changes on a much deeper level.
Hormones are usually blamed first for pregnancy mood swings, and with good reason! Hormones (namely estrogen and progesterone) affect the working balance of the neurotransmitters in your brain, influencing your mood. If you suddenly feel completely different about things than you would have before pregnancy (or even from moment to moment during pregnancy), hormones could be why!
Physical changes can be exhausting. Aside from the energy growing an entirely new person takes, your changing body can make sleep difficult. Being tired can then heighten already fluctuating emotions, highlighting your mood swings.
There are lots of reasons you might not be sleeping well. Getting up to use the toilet multiple times a night, waking up so you can roll yourself over, or even sleeping sitting up to minimize heartburn. The lack of substantial sleep understandably brings your physical exhaustion to a new level.
Dramatic shifts in mood can leave you feeling run-down and prone to even more of these dramatic moods. It can be difficult to pace yourself emotionally when you aren’t sure which feelings will strike and when.
Trying to adjust to those emotions – responding in a societally “appropriate” way – can wear you out. This may be especially true for those working outside the home or who are at home with other small children and responsible for their emotional regulation.
Whether this is your first time riding the pregnancy train, or a return trip, each pregnancy is full of unique circumstances accompanied by stressors.
Relationship strain, family drama, financial stress, or even health scares can all affect how you feel. If you are facing a situation that produces stress all on its own, adding pregnancy is a surefire way to send you on your way to an emotional circus.
What to Do
Feeling like you aren’t in control of your body or emotions can be overwhelming. Having a plan can provide a comforting structure during an otherwise tumultuous time.
Confide in a Loved One
No one has experienced or felt what you’re feeling, but you are far from alone.
Reach out to someone who loves you for a safe place to vent or process your feelings. Perhaps they have experienced pregnancy or mood swings themselves, or maybe they are just a safe place for you to sort through your feelings. Be sure your safe person understands what you need from them, whether it’s some helpful suggestions or just a listening ear.
Communicate with Your Doctor
While mood swings are completely normal, there can be exceptions beyond the expected level of emotional turmoil. If you find your moods changing so drastically that they affect your day-to-day life, making it difficult to function, bring these feelings to your doctor’s attention. This is especially true if your ability to function impacts the well-being of others, such as coworkers, children, or pets.
Give Yourself Permission to Feel
Pregnancy is a meaningful experience that, in some ways, will stay with you forever. Your mood swings may linger after childbirth because your hormones and other factors (like lack of sleep!) will continue to adjust and settle. However, this time in your life is temporary, and you can give yourself permission to experience it fully.
While mood swings can be tiring, feeling extreme emotions isn’t always a bad thing. Embrace the happy tears and let yourself linger in those sweet moments as long as you’d like.
And if you need a little bit of time to sob over a Hot Pockets sandwich while a cartoon cat serenades you in the minivan, you do you.