Last updated on Jun 11th, 2021 at 08:33 pm

Hormones often get a bad rap when it comes to pregnancy moodiness. Gynaecologist Dr Taheera Hassim says that increasing levels of progesterone and oestrogen is only one of many reasons why hormones play with our emotions.

Causes of pregnancy mood swings

  • Pregnancy is an enormous life change that we are generally expected to take in our stride. But even in a planned pregnancy, there are moments of uncertainty and doubt that create anxiety completely unrelated to hormones.”
  • Of course, uncertainty and doubt are only the tip of the worry iceberg. Finances, childcare, returning to work, sibling rivalry, the baby’s health – all of these add up to unusually high stress levels at a time when your mind and body are already working overtime. Often the result is irritability and mood swings.
  • The physical changes that accompany pregnancy also play a role in making us more sensitive than usual.
  • “Nausea, morning sickness, heartburn, and swollen ankles make daily life more challenging than we’re used to. Moms also worry about whether their bodies will return to normal and about how their partners will feel if it doesn’t happen,” says Hassim.
  • “In the third trimester, especially, moms worry about the delivery and whether or not they’ll get the birth they hoped for.”

Hassim gives the following advice to anxious moms:

“Get help! An involved, supportive, sympathetic partner makes a real difference to how well a mom manages her pregnancy – especially her emotions. And be easy on yourself. Take breaks, relax, and sleep. Your life is about to change forever – you deserve a moment or two to take it all in!”

The PMS factor and pregnancy mood swings

The extent to which you suffer from premenstrual tension often reveals how emotional you’re likely to be while pregnant.

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“Moms who experience severe PMS symptoms are more likely to be emotional and irritable while pregnant. No one really knows why. Some experts believe it’s related to an underlying vitamin and mineral deficiency resulting from a generally unhealthy lifestyle. Supplementing appropriately has shown positive results in some moms, although there are no conclusive studies to prove this,” says Hassim.

Lifestyle changes, on the other hand, almost always improve PMS symptoms, which is good news if you’re pregnant. What better reason than your developing foetus to avoid caffeine and nicotine, improve your diet, and introduce some light exercise into your daily routine.

Eat your way to happiness

Naturopath Dr Sumaiya Latif and nutritional therapist Hannah Kaye both agree that the best way to support your body – and mind – during pregnancy is through a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

“We routinely underestimate the extent to which the food we eat affects our hormones and ability to cope emotionally. As a rule we often medicate first and make changes after. But in pregnancy this isn’t possible,” says Kaye.

“A low-GI diet combined with a little daily exercise is a recipe for a stress-free pregnancy. I always advise my patients to supplement with omega oils and an appropriate multivitamin. Look for one that includes a decent amount of folic acid and adequate B12, B6, zinc, and magnesium, as all these nutrients are essential for both foetal development and mood regulation.”

Latif adds that chromium, a mineral thought to regulate the stress hormone cortisol, owing to its effect on blood sugar regulation and improvement in insulin sensitivity, is considered safe during pregnancy. She also advises the use of chamomile for its calming effects.

Good mood food

  • Walnuts contain good fats and boost levels of serotonin the feel-good hormone.
  • Chickpeas are high in folic acid, which produces the neurotransmitter dopamine associated with pleasure.
  • Avocados are high in B vitamins, which support the nervous system.
  • Fish (except tuna and swordfish) is high in omega-3 fats that may help decrease anxiety.
  • Papaya is an excellent source of vitamin C, which can inhibit the production of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s also high in fibre and can help you beat pregnancy constipation.
Did you know …?
“Several recent studies have indicated a link between iron deficiency in women of childbearing age and symptoms like apathy, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, depressive symptoms, and difficulty concentrating,” says naturopath Dr Sumaiya Latif.

Boost your iron naturally by eating:

  • Red meat
  • Egg yolks
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Raisins and apricots
  • Sunflower, pumpkin seeds and pine nuts
  • Iron-enriched cereals and grains
  • Molluscs (oysters, clams, scallops)
  • Beans, lentils, chick peas and soybeans
  • Liver
  • Artichokes.