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Understanding and Managing Pregnancy Mood Swings

Mood swings, insecurities, fears, ambivalence, impatience, and anger are all likely to surface during your pregnancy -- often at unpredictable times. Why do you sometimes feel so out of control while you're expecting?

Hormonal surges can cause your emotions to fluctuate wildly, notes psychologist Fred Cavaiani, MA, a consultant for the Women's Center for Medicine at the Detroit Medical Center. But that may only partly explain the changes in your mood. Let's face it: Having a baby is a momentous life change. It's natural to feel joy over this new addition to your family, fears about your new responsibility, and even pangs of longing for your freer pre-baby days.

"You're a walking receptacle of feelings," he says, "and you don't have the ability to suppress them." So express them instead. "Open up to whatever it is you're experiencing," advises Cavaiani. Discuss your mood swings with the people you are closest to. "Sharing your feelings calms you down, helps you see things more clearly, and gives you the objectivity to find solutions."

It's difficult not knowing what the future holds, and typical to feel apprehensive about labor, delivery, and motherhood. There's also the added worry of how you'll manage to balance both work and your family life once the baby has arrived. All moms-to-be have worries, says Adrienne B. Lieberman, a childbirth educator and the author of Easing Labor Pain (Harvard Common Press, 1992). "There's a real crisis of confidence as you approach this exciting, tumultuous time," she says.

Here are some tips to help you get through the emotional struggle:

1. Don't worry about your worrying. Some psychologists actually view these anxieties as a reflection of your growing attachment to your fetus. But to get the reassurance you need, discuss your fears with your health-care provider. Some moms-to-be even feel better having more frequent prenatal checkups just to be extra sure that their pregnancy is progressing normally.

2. Prepare an action plan. "It's very anxiety-relieving to be planning for the future, rather than just ruminating about it," notes Lieberman. So do some research and gather information about the things that worry you the most. Seek out opportunities to mingle with other moms-to-be in exercise groups, childbirth classes, and baby-care classes.

3. Ask other parents how they cope. Talk to working mothers about how they selected their child-care arrangements, and find out how they manage to balance their careers and family life. Financial and health issues are a huge worry for many parents-to-be. But, "the burdens will lighten when you share them with others and come to realize you're not alone," Lieberman says.

4. Dream. Don't be surprised if you become obsessed with anything baby-related and begin dreaming about babies every night -- and day. Dream on! These reveries are a way of getting ready for motherhood, and of bonding with your child, says Cavaiani. Fantasies let you glimpse the euphoria that you'll feel when you first lay eyes on your little one.

Expectant mothers from across the country gathered for an online chat with americanbaby.com. These women are experiencing a wide range of emotions: fatigue, anxiety, guilt, fear, and, above all, profound joy. Here are some of their comments:

Juliet (seven months pregnant; Brandon, MS): "I slept through the first trimester, but I was more energetic after that. You feel better and you get your appetite back. You finally notice your pants getting tighter and think, 'Wow, I'm pregnant and I feel good. And I still look good!' It's so exciting wondering what it will feel like when the baby moves, and then later on, when it finally does, seeing it make ripples on your stomach."

Deborah (nearly three months pregnant with her second child; Kansas City, MO): "With my first pregnancy, my emotions were really erratic. Anything could set me off. My husband and I got into more fights over things like housework, and I cried very easily. This time I feel mostly guilty and overwhelmed. Sydney just turned a year old. She's very active and wants lots of attention. I feel bad for wanting to rest instead of play with her."

Lyn (four months pregnant; San Diego, CA): "Early on, my biggest fear was that I might miscarry. Now, I worry about what to do about work. I also have anxious thoughts about how much our lifestyle will change. It won't be as spontaneous or relaxed as my husband and I are used to."

Carol (five months pregnant; Princeton, NJ): "Sometimes I envision myself holding my child's hand as we cross the street. I also try to picture my husband being a dad. He's never been that comfortable with kids, but now that we're expecting, he's been spending more time with children. I look at him interacting with them and feel tears welling up as I think: 'This is so cool!'"

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.