Psychological changes in pregnancy

Why are women so emotional when pregnant? Why do they have mood swings?


1. Pregnancy is a wonderful experience but it could also be a distressing event

2. Women, undergo physiological and psychological changes in pregnancy.

3. Hormones, change in body size and childbirth can have psychological effects on the woman during and after pregnancy

4. Behaviour change during pregnancy occurs more in the first pregnancy.

5. Accepting that these changes do occur helps in overcoming mood swings during pregnancy. It reliefs anxiety.

6. Emotional changes in pregnancy varies from trimester-to-trimester.

7. These days pregnancy is seen as a psychological event.

The knowledge of the usual psychological changes in pregnancy is crucial in proffering of specific counseling on mood swings commonly seen in pregnant women. These changes vary in quality and severity from one trimester to another but some occur with considerable frequency in a particular trimester.

first trimester

In the first trimester, a notable emotional phenomenon is ambivalence, – a word which connotes an experience whereby one’s feeling is mixed and could be contradictory. For instance, there could be vacillation between feelings of a sense of well being, joyfulness, and acceptance of pregnancy on one hand, and anxiety, uncertainty, or low spirit on the other hand: Most women also feel the need to be protected and cared for by significant others in their immediate environment and this need may be exaggerated by some immature women in form of making unrealistic demands for support. A common unpleasant feeling relates to the fear and pessimism about the possibility of spontaneous abortion which is notoriously common during this trimester. If conception was presumed to be the grace from a fecundity deity appeased to by ritualization after a period of infertility, this first trimester could be welcomed with a variety of responses such as joyfulness, or uncertainty regarding the viability of the fetus and incomplete or failed compliance to ritual conditions may evoke expectations of morphological abnormalities in the baby as retribution from the deity. Social changes during pregnancy are common; a teenage unmarried expectant mother without a reliable male partner may have to face the stress of parental rebuke and also the uncaring neglect of her partner. The shame and embarrassment arising from the condemnatory societal attitude and its moral overtones towards illegitimate pregnancy are all to well known.

In some women, severe early signs of pregnancy such as vomiting, salivation, lethargy, and body weakness will compound any pre-existing emotional difficulties making the whole pregnancy experience most unpalatable.

second trimester

During the second trimester, quickening stands out as a milestone of psychological import. It reassures the mother that the fetus is grossly viable and reaffirms her own reproductive ability. Realizing the fear emanating from the possibility of genetic disorders such as sickle cell anaemia, and rhesus incompatibility in the baby could arouse considerable tension and despair.

In the latter part of the second trimester, the uterus is usually enlarged enough to restrict a woman’s social, and occupational activities; more so in the face of persistent vomiting, salvation and other pregnancy changes. The low income mothers are particularly saddled with the anticipated financial responsibilities relating to purchase of baby’s materials and other maternity items. Setting up a social welfare package in some hospitals, had assisted some penurious pregnant women in acquiring some of these items. Some centres, give ‘exemption-from-fee’ concession for the prescriptions of haematinics and vitamin supplements of deserving women.

psychological changes in pregnancy- a depressed pregnant woman. Image credit: think health magazine

third trimester

With advanced pregnancy in the third trimester limitations of physical activity due to increased body weight and the reality of pending motherhood are psychologically significant. An important recurring theme is uncertainty of coping with labour pains, the intensity and quality of which are often influenced by various misconceptions, some of which are picked up in the antenatal clinic waiting area or at informal street discussions. Despite the modern-day availability of effective analgesics, some pregnant women are terribly scared of labour pain to the extent of their insistence on elective caesarean section with attendant anaesthetic risk. These psychological changes during pregnancy do not necessarily lead to frank mental disorder but may be significant enough to justify appropriate psychological support for some women.


In summary, the following are responsible for emotional effects and cause of worries in pregnant women.

  • Whether she will be a good parent
  • Finances
  • Will baby be born healthy?
  • Will her partner still finds her attractive?
  • Coping with labour pains and child birth

Talking to your partner and trusted family members about your pregnancy anxiety may help. Join pregnancy support groups.

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