It’s no secret that women can become moody and forgetful when they’re pregnant. Heck, wouldn’t you be crabby if you suddenly became more forgetful? My cousin Martha swears that during her second pregnancy she forgot her sister’s name. She didn’t just pause for two seconds; she literally could not recall her own flesh and blood’s name. Now that’s scary.
And sure, you can blame it on the fluctuating hormones, but there are other, more concrete issues at work — issues you can actually control, unlike your raging hormones.
There are a variety of reasons why women experience mood swings and irritability during pregnancy. In the first trimester, the number-one culprit is most likely those pesky pregnancy hormones surging through your body. “It’s like one long episode of PMS for some women,” says Paula Giblin, CNMW, Director of Perinatal Services at MCPM Clinic in Denver.
But in addition to your uncontrollable hormones, there are other situational issues that can feed your moodiness. For starters, nearly 85 percent of women will experience some type of morning sickness, whether it’s mild nausea or all-day vomiting. Plus, they’ll start to gain weight and have trouble fitting into their clothes. Frequent urination, another early pregnancy symptom, can interfere with sleeping. And then there’s the “Oh my God, we’re pregnant,” thing going on in the back of your mind. Not an ideal recipe for a good mood.
For many women, there are self-esteem issues related to your body expanding beyond your control. “A lot of how you feel can depend on how your partner is reacting to the pregnancy,” Giblin says. “If you feel like a beautiful goddess when you’re pregnant and/or your partner makes you feel like one, then you are one of the lucky ones, because there are a lot of partners who don’t respond well.”
Also, in your first trimester, you’re more tired than usual and it’s more difficult to tackle normal daily activities. “It’s hard to do the things you normally do, like climb a flight of stairs without losing your breath and, if you have morning sickness, it’s hard to enjoy activities that you used to enjoy because you’re exhausted, nauseous and belching,” says Giblin.
Now, who wouldn’t become a little moody under these circumstances?
The best way to stave off, or manage, any type of mood issues associated with pregnancy is exercise, says Giblin. “It boosts your endorphins, keeps you from turning into a complete blob and helps you sleep better at night.”
She also recommends getting into a prenatal yoga class, not only for the stretching, strengthening and exercise, but also for the social outlet. “If you get into a class where you see the same people over and over again, you can bond and get support from other people who are going through the same thing as you.”
If you find yourself feeling down and depressed, as opposed to just crabby and irritable, then you should stock up on omega-3 fatty acids. A British study found that because omega-3 fatty acids are so important to the baby’s brain function, all of your intake literally gets sucked out of you and passed on to the baby, especially in the third trimester. The great thing about this remedy for feeling down is that omega-3s cannot only help your mood, but have the beneficial effects of lengthening gestation and improving the child’s cognitive and functioning status later in life.
You may have heard of this condition referred to as “baby brain” or "momnesia." For some pregnant women, it can feel as if your mind is operating at 50 percent capacity some days (if that much!). I’ve heard numerous stories about women forgetting obvious things. One friend told me she searched hours for her keys only to find them in the freezer. Others have shared how they found themselves shopping (or elsewhere) in their slippers.
It might be easy to just blame your absentmindedness on the hormones, and to some degree they do add to this issue. Diana Dell, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist and psychiatrist at Duke University Medical Center, explains that pregnant women are really more inattentive than forgetful, and that the high levels of progesterone and estrogen might contribute to this because they have a sedating effect.
Two studies, from 1997 and 2002, show that women’s brains actually shrink during the third trimester and that this shrinkage might impact memory and attentiveness (I knew it!). Don’t worry, though. Brains do return to normal size, according to these studies, after about six months. Honestly, I’m still waiting. And my daughter’s four.
But, the most likely culprit to the change in our brain functioning is that we are hugely preoccupied with the health, nurturing and impending arrival of a new person.
Tracey Gaudet, M.D., Executive Director of Duke Integrative Medicine, says that typically women in today’s culture add creating a life to everything else they’re doing. And instead of taking time off, they’re just completely exhausted and drained because they’re working and trying to get their lives ready for the baby, while undergoing enormous physical and emotional changes. “Life transformation takes a lot of energy,” she says.
Giblin says you should employ typical memory tricks to help you get through the day. Write yourself notes, set reminders on your computer or smart phone, and seek help and support from a friend or your partner. She also recommends taking omega-3s and omega-6s to help with your memory (and your mood).
Also very important is to give yourself a break — literally. Take some time for a walk or a massage, or anything else where you give yourself and your mind a rest, every day if possible.
Gaudet says to listen to your body. “Understand when it’s sending you a message that it needs more down time, more unplugged time. Work with your body, not against it.”
Please remember to always consult your doctor if you’re experiencing pain, discomfort or extreme depression during your pregnancy.