How to Manage Your Mood Swings in Pregnancy
Ah, those pregnancy mood swings. Pregnancy emotions can take you for a veritable roller-coaster ride. One minute you’re setting up your nursery and excitedly counting down the days until you meet baby, and the next you’re bawling into your pregnancy pillow that the nursery paint is the wrong color.
While it’s completely normal to get super emotional during pregnancy—yes, even over the choice between Pale Pistachio and Cloistered Garden Green—it’s important to make sure there’s nothing more serious at play. Read on to learn how to manage the mood swings pregnancy brings—and when to seek outside help.
In this article:
What are pregnancy mood swings?
What causes pregnancy mood swings?
When do pregnancy mood swings start?
Common pregnancy emotions
How to cope with pregnancy mood swings
When to seek help for pregnancy mood swings
Pregnancy mood swings are sudden emotional transitions caused by the rapid physical and psychological changes during pregnancy, explains Glorisel Gonzalez Viera, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“This means that a pregnant person can feel emotions changing quickly from one to the other, for example, happiness to irritability,” Gonzalez Viera says.
It’s important to understand the distinction between pregnancy mood swings and more serious mental health conditions. “[Pregnancy mood swings] are different from more serious mental health conditions, which are persistent, present even without external factors and impact an individual’s overall functioning for a sustained period of time,” says Michelle Jackson, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Westside Psych in Los Angeles.
Like with many pregnancy symptoms, those all-powerful hormones are the culprit behind pregnancy mood swings—specifically estrogen and progesterone, which are both on the rise during pregnancy. “These increases affect mood-regulating brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin,” says Jackson. “Given all of the hormonal, physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy, mood swings are to be expected.” Pregnancy exhaustion, as well as the stress and anxiety that come with the territory of expecting, can contribute to your oscillating moods too.
Lorraine Kearney, BASc, CDN, founder and CEO of New York City Nutrition, says fluctuations in blood sugar levels could be a contributing factor behind pregnancy mood swings. “Foods high in refined sugars and simple carbohydrates can lead to rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, potentially exacerbating mood swings,” she says. “The correlation between diet and mood can be noticed fairly early if a pregnant person is mindful of their nutrition and makes positive dietary changes.”
The timing of pregnancy mood swings—just like your actual pregnancy emotions—can be all over the place. Jackson says it’s typical for pregnancy mood swings to start in the first trimester, subside during mid-pregnancy and then rear their head again in the months before baby comes. “However, they’re highly dependent on external circumstances and can occur through any stage of pregnancy,” she adds. “Significant life changes can also exacerbate changes in mood.”
If you’re pregnant, you’re likely experiencing a medley of emotions—and you’re not alone. Jackson says that anxiety, excitement, happiness, irritability and overwhelm are all common pregnancy emotions. “In addition, feelings of sadness may occur … as pregnancy can also represent a loss of a previous life,” she says. “Fears of childbirth are not uncommon. There may also be anxiety about upcoming prenatal appointments or ultrasounds, especially if there’s a history of pregnancy loss or infertility.”
One of the biggest emotional challenges during pregnancy is managing the uncertainty of it all—which can definitely impact your overall mood, says Jackson. “It’s important to be able to identify and label what you’re feeling, so that it can be addressed in healthy and effective ways,” she says. “This starts with being mindful of what you’re experiencing in the present moment and noticing physiological changes in the body.”
Practicing self-care and self-compassion can also help you navigate complex pregnancy emotions. “This means being kind to yourself by acknowledging the work that your body is doing by being pregnant, and accepting that, with this, mood swings are likely to come,” advises Gonzalez Viera. “It’s important to practice self-care by eating healthy, being active within what [your provider] has recommended, participating in hobbies that are enjoyable and getting sleep when you feel sleepy, even if it’s a daytime nap. Practicing meditation, yoga or deep-breathing exercises can help you feel better as well.”
While pregnancy mood swings are very normal, occasionally they can become so intense that you should seek help. There’s absolutely zero shame in reaching out to a mental health professional when you’re struggling.
“It’s important to seek help when we have a concern that things are going beyond usual pregnancy mood swings, or even to just process the emotions and thoughts that may be coming up with this transition,” Gonzalez Viera says. “Know that seeking support and help in others is normal and that no one has done pregnancy or parenthood perfectly.”
It’s also important to be mindful of your symptoms and risk factors for more serious mental health conditions like depression during pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), depression affects about one in 10 pregnant people.
Symptoms of depression can sometimes resemble pregnancy mood swings, but the ACOG advises speaking to your provider if you have any of these signs for at least two weeks:
- Depressed mood most of the day, almost every day
- Loss of interest in work or other activities
- Persistent feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual
- Loss of appetite or other concerns around weight
- Trouble paying attention, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts about death or suicide
There’s a lot to unpack emotionally when you’re pregnant, and sometimes it’s hard to make sense of how you’re feeling. Remember to give yourself grace about your pregnancy mood swings—it’s completely okay to have all the feels right now—but make sure to reach out to a professional if you sense you could benefit from some extra support. “It’s important to acknowledge that having a baby is a big life change and that it’s common to have different emotions and thoughts during this time period,” says Gonzalez Viera.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
Glorisel Gonzalez Viera, MD, is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. She’s also an American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN)-certified psychiatrist with postgraduate degrees in women’s mental health, psychiatry and sleep medicine. She earned her medical degree from Ponce Health Sciences University in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Michelle Jackson, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Westside Psych in Los Angeles. She earned her Doctor of Clinical Psychology degree from Pepperdine University.
Lorraine Kearney, BASc, CDN, is the founder and CEO of New York City Nutrition.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Depression During Pregnancy, August 2022