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Trang Burnett describes herself as rational and not prone to knee-jerk emotional reactions. Yet, when the Tampa, Fla., mother was pregnant with now-2-year-old son Bryson, all bets on her moods were off. "TV commercials really affected me—happy or sad, they always made me cry," recalls Burnett, 36.
Sound familiar? While pregnant, you will experience a gamut of emotions—many of which may be completely new to you. After delivery, the emotional roller coaster ride continues.
What's to blame? For one thing, you might be experiencing financial and other worries as well as a total upheaval of your old, familiar life. For another, your body and brain are going through major physical adjustments. "Hormonal changes play a huge role in your moods during and after pregnancy," explains Lucy Puryear, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and author of Understanding Your Moods and Emotions When You're Expecting (Houghton Mifflin). "All women are different, but in some, the emotional changes can be extreme."
To help you cope with the potential swings in your temperament, here's a guide to your new feelings and attitudes, why and when each happens and how to cope when the going gets rough.
Your Pregnant Personality
Blissfully happy Why you feel that way Once a fertilized egg implants in your uterus, the developing placenta begins to secrete hormones essential to your baby's growth. One of these hormones is estrogen (another is progesterone). "Estrogen can produce a sense of well-being," explains Puryear. "Then again, a lot of women are just really excited and happy about being pregnant, especially those who've been trying for a while."
Coping strategies Who needs 'em? Enjoy it while it lasts!
Teary and irritable
Why you feel that way "Hormones appear to play a significant role in the precipitation of emotional issues during pregnancy," explains Geetha Shivakumar, M.D., an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, who conducts clinical research in perinatal mood disorders.
"Common symptoms are irritability, sadness or anxiety, and they may be [more] prominent in certain months of pregnancy," Shivakumar adds. For example, the fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone in your bloodstream can make you especially moody during the first trimester.
Coping strategies First, explain to your partner that you're experiencing some pretty heavy emotions. By making sure that he understands your fickle humor has nothing to do with him, you can nip any potential relationship tension in the bud. Same goes for other family members and friends.
Second, take care of yourself: Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help abate the negative feelings and intensify the positive ones. "Good physical well-being is important for emotional well-being," says Shivakumar. "Preliminary data also suggest that eating omega-3 fatty acids may improve mood symptoms." (Certain kinds of fish are among the best sources; for information on safe seafood and how much you should eat, see "Mercury Rising?")
Finally, if you have a history of depression, be sure to tell your doctor, since it can not only recur during pregnancy, but also linger and become more severe after you give birth (See "Depression During Pregnancy" on page 3).
Why you feel that way They don't call the second trimester the "honeymoon phase" for nothing. During this stage of pregnancy, your belly size is still manageable and your breasts may be larger, so your partner might find you incredibly sexy. For you, the increase in blood volume during pregnancy leads to, well, more blood flow—everywhere. "Your nipples and genitals are more sensitive, so you may feel more sexual," says Puryear. "Plus, the uterine contractions during orgasm feel more intense when you're pregnant."
Coping strategies Get your doctor's OK, then go for it!
Fatigued and foggy
Why you feel that way In the early stages, the placenta produces yet another hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG); rising levels mean the pregnancy is progressing. That's the good news. The bad news is that in tandem with progesterone, HCG may also cause the crushing exhaustion and morning sickness many women experience in the first trimester. The fatigue can cause the drop in acuity many women complain about, but it may not be the only reason you're not as clear-minded as you used to be. "Your priorities change," explains Puryear. "You were once focused on meetings and deadlines; now you're fantasizing about baby names and being a mother."
Coping strategies If you have a job, compartmentalize: Try to keep work at work and concentrate on your baby registry list and other "mommy" tasks when you're at home. It's also helpful to write down your thoughts and to-dos; this will not just help you feel organized but will also prevent you from forgetting them entirely.
Most important, move your body even if you don't feel like it. "To give your energy and mood a boost, exercise," urges John Hobbs, M.D., an OB-GYN at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a clinical instructor at Northwestern University in Chicago. "I tell my pregnant patients that taking a swim will make them feel a whole lot better."
If you're extremely exhausted and mentally sluggish, tell your doctor, who may want to perform tests to rule out such conditions as anemia (caused by having too few red blood cells) or hypothyroidism (a low-functioning thyroid gland).