By Lola Augustine Brown
Christine Wall didn’t need a test to tell her she was pregnant — she had her suspicions the minute she started getting snappy with her hubby. “I’m never normally like that, but when I was pregnant with our first it was like there was a little angry monster inside of me,” says Wall, who lives in Halifax. “Even the littlest thing would set me off.”
Dr. Carrie Lionberg, a clinical psychiatrist at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba who specializes in women’s health psychology, says that many women feel extra-emotional when pregnant, especially during the first and third trimester. And there are several reasons why:
One is that, the hormonal surges over the course of a pregnancy are similar, for many women, to the hormonal fluctuations that may trigger PMS for many women, which often involves similar mood changes. Add in the fact that your body is going through a complete transition and, especially for first-time moms, so is your sense of identity. For many women, the first trimester is often additionally stressful until you’ve made it past the important three-month marker (especially if you’ve miscarried previously) so it’s no wonder that many of us feel teary, anxious and irritable when preggers. But taking good care of yourself can help make the mood swings more bearable, and could even lessen them, says Dr. Lionberg. “You need to make sure that your diet is adequate, that you are getting enough sleep and that you develop good stress management techniques.”
Dr. Lionberg says that although depressed and anxious mood swings can be a normal part of pregnancy, being a prisoner to those moods is not. “Some of the cardinal symptoms associated with depression and anxiety often get missed and attributed to the physiological symptoms of and adjustment to pregnancy,” she says. “If you begin to notice that these mood problems are impacting your daily life and you can’t find any peace from your moods, then they may be red flags for depression or anxiety so you need to let your care provider know.”
It’s important to note that you may be more vulnerable to depression if you’ve been depressed in the past, or if you or your family have a history of depression at any point, but especially during pregnancy or the post-partum period. “In those situations, there is a greater risk of depression returning when you are pregnant. If you are depressed you might not give yourself the care you need, which can seriously impact the baby,” says Dr. Lionberg, although she stresses that having risk factors does not mean that you are destined to suffer from depression again. Be sure to reach out for support if you are having trouble functioning due to your moods.
Living with someone who over-reacts to situations that she would have formerly just taken in stride can be very tough indeed. Wall says her moods were hard on her hubby, especially as he wanted to be close but she just wanted to be alone as she walked around with gritted teeth. “I knew that I was being irrational, and when the mood passed I’d feel really guilty for being so snappy with him,” she says.
Darin Clisby of Medicine Hat, Alta., says his wife Manjit wasn’t particularly the moody first time around, but with her second pregnancy things have been more difficult. “She’s irritable, has become more demanding and less patient. Little things like my leaving toast crumbs on the counter have caused her to snap at me,” says Clisby. “I like to think I’m pretty good at dealing with it most of the time, because I know it’s just because she is tired and not feeling great, but sometimes I can’t help being a bit sarcastic in response. Most of the time though I just roll with it, and she always apologizes later.” Says Manjit, “When I freak out at him he’ll either listen to me vent or just ignore me, which is probably wise.” She adds, “Actually he is probably ignoring me when I think he is listening, which still works.”
Dr. Lionberg advises women to talk to their partner about how emotionally variable they are feeling and that they do feel bad when hormones take over. “By putting it out in the open, it may make the ups and downs easier to deal with and may help to minimize the drama when you do fly off the handle,” she says.
Lola Augustine Brown was super-emotional when pregnant, but it was more like bubbling over with happiness than being an angry witch (which is how she is with PMS).
Find out more about recognizing the signs of depression during pregnancy here.