It’s totally normal to experience a range of feelings during pregnancy. Some of these can be super-intense and overwhelming and others can lead you to feel anxious or experience low mood.
The problem is, when does feeling a little lower than normal become something more serious?
It’s important to realize the difference between mood swings caused by hormones and depression in pregnancy, (also known as antenatal depression, prenatal depression or perinatal depression) so that you can seek help if you need to.
First things first, what is antenatal depression?
Antenatal or prenatal depression is a form of depression which starts at any time during pregnancy. The feelings can swing from feeling low, to feeling severely down, to feeling totally worthless and hopeless.
It’s important to realize that yes, hormones are running riot within your body when you’re pregnant. And it is normal to have mood swings which go from okay to feeling angry or a little anxious in a matter of minutes.
But it’s not normal to feel like there is no point to anything, totally worthless, and to go from down to totally desolate.
If you feel this way, you need to speak to your midwife or doctor as a matter of urgency.
Are Mood Swings in Pregnancy Normal?
The sheer amount of hormones that run around the body when a woman is pregnant are huge, and this can easily cause big changes in moods.
These aren’t normally violent or extreme, and are more to do with bursting into tears randomly and then feeling okay, more than feeling extreme in either direction.
If you simply feel a little ‘all over the place’ and scatty then this a normal pregnancy mood swing, and you can put it down to hormones.
During the first few weeks and months of pregnancy, hormones go from normal levels and double, triple, and even quadruple very fast.
This sudden hit of hormones is a shock to the body, and the mood swings which come from this are caused by that sudden increase.
This is a normal situation.
When Mood Swings Aren’t Normal
It’s very hard to give you a hard and fast rule over what is normal and what isn’t, because every woman is different.
What we can do however is explain what isn’t normal in terms of extremes.
Antenatal depression is a variant of depression, the only difference is that it comes on when a woman is pregnant.
This can either disappear after delivery, sometime during pregnancy, or it can continue on after pregnancy and turn into postnatal depression.
Generally speaking, the following situations aren’t normal:
• Finding it hard to get out of bed in the mornings
• A total lack of interest in everything and anything
• Feeling extremely anxious
• Feeling very irritated with everything and everyone
• Swinging from okay to totally extreme, e.g. very angry, full of rage, and extreme sadness
• Feeling desperate and desolate
• Losing your appetite
• Finding it hard to sleep, or sleeping too much
• Not being able to concentrate on anything
• Not wanting to socialize or speak to anyone, wanting to be in your own bubble
• Feeling very scared or fearful of the future, especially regarding the delivery and afterwards
• Not being able to control your emotions at all
These are all symptoms that something else is going on, e.g. a depressive state that isn’t just down to pregnancy mood swings.
How to Get Help
Studies have shown that women who suffer from antenatal depression are twice as likely to go into premature labor.
It is also thought that 1 in 10 pregnant women will experience a form of depression at least once in their pregnancy.
From those statistics and statements, you should realize that you are not alone, and that if you are feeling like you need help regarding your feelings and your state of mind, it is not something to be ashamed or fearful of.
There is help out there, and there are people who are there to support you.
The first course of action is to speak to your midwife or doctor and be open and honest about how you’re feeling.
They have seen and heard this a million times before, so you’re not telling them something shocking.
There is also the fact that many pregnant women feel guilty about the way they are feeling inside; this can often be because they don’t feel excited about the impending arrival, and there is a sense of shame about this.
The bottom line is that this is the depression not the way you truly feel genuinely.
You are not going to be a bad mother because you’re feeling this way now, it is simply that you need help to overcome a serious medical condition.
Once you seek help, you will learn ways to manage and treat your antenatal depression, and you will notice that the dark clouds do lift.
Depression of any kind can only be treated when the person concerned takes that first brave step towards saying ‘help me’. This is the strongest thing you can do. As a new mother to be, you are being fearless and saying ‘I will not let this beat me’.
There is no shame or guilt there, and there is actually nothing stronger you could do.
So, if you’re feeling a variety of different emotions and you’re not sure whether you can put these down to regular pregnancy mood swings, or whether it is something more serious brewing, don’t wait to feel like you have nowhere to turn – speak to your midwife or doctor, and find a way through the fog instead.
Smith, A., Twynstra, J., & Seabrook, J. A. (2020). Antenatal depression and offspring health outcomes. Obstetric medicine, 13(2), 55–61. https://doi.org/10.1177/1753495X19843015