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Pregnancy hormones: Understanding the first trimester's ups and downs

It's true, mom-to-be: Lots of changes happen early in your pregnancy, and not all of them are physical. For instance, a lot of expectant mothers experience mood swings. Maybe you've felt it too: You're happy one minute, sad the next. And you find yourself crying or getting annoyed by the littlest things.

Rest assured, mood swings are a normal part of pregnancy. But what's driving this rollercoaster of a journey? 

You guessed it: Hormones are (partly) to blame 

Hormones play a role in many pregnancy-related changes, and mood swings are no exception. When you're pregnant, your body makes more of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This, in turn, messes with chemical messengers in your brain, called neurotransmitters. Their job is to transmit nerve signals, which can affect your mood. So when rising levels of estrogen and progesterone starts messing with your levels of neurotransmitters, it ultimately messes with your mood. The result: those yo-yoing emotions. 

Stress can be a culprit too 

Hormonal changes aren't the only things that cause mood swings. Stress plays a role too. Having a baby is exciting. It's also a pretty big change! And change, even when it's positive, can be stressful. 

If you're feeling frazzled, part of your tension may come from all the work you may be doing to get ready for your new arrival. From prenatal checkups to pregnancy dos and don'ts, you have plenty to think about when you're expecting. 

Whether you worry about the added financial responsibility or being a good parent, you're not alone. Sometimes it helps to talk with your partner or a good friend about how you're feeling. And your pregnancy care team is always there to listen to you too.

Managing your mood 

Good news: Mood swings do get better—they're often easier to handle during the second trimester. Until then, you might try these tips for coping with stress, which may help you manage your mood:

  • Go to bed on time and get plenty of sleep. Take a nap when you need it. 
  • Go for a walk. Exercise can lift your mood and lower your stress.
  • Take time to relax. Enjoy a movie with a friend or a few minutes alone with your thoughts while you relax and quietly breathe. 
  • Treat yourself to a massage. 
  • Eat healthy foods. 
  • Ask your partner out for a date. 

What if your mood doesn't improve?

Remember, you can expect some mood changes and stress when you're pregnant. But if stress is getting the best of you or if you feel sad for more than two weeks, see your doctor right away. It's important to find out if you're dealing with something more serious, such as anxiety or depression. Many women are affected by these conditions during pregnancy. Counseling, or talk therapy, is one treatment that can help.

Mind your mental health

Depression during pregnancy is more common than you think. Learn the warning signs and what you should do if you're feeling blue

Sources: American Pregnancy Association; March of Dimes

Reviewed 1/20/2022

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