Pregnancy & Birth

Hormones in pregnancy

Those nine months can be an emotional roller coaster, but there are ways to keep your surging hormones in check.

Hormones in pregnancy

From the moment you conceive, your body springs into action to prepare itself for pregnancy and childbirth – and that means a whole new cocktail of hormones will be pumping through your body.

When fertilisation occurs, the corpus luteum in your ovary starts to release the hormones progesterone and oestrogen, and will do so in increasing amounts throughout your pregnancy - up to about 50 times their normal levels. These hormones relax the muscles of the uterus and bladder and help your abdomen and pelvic area expand to accommodate your growing baby. Unfortunately, they can also wreak havoc on your emotional state.

What's happening?

The emotions experienced during pregnancy differ dramatically from woman to woman - some may barely be affected, while others may suffer terribly from mood swings. And although your hormones are increasing steadily throughout pregnancy, this doesn't necessarily mean that you'll feel worse as it progresses. 'Some women feel that they're more sensitive during the time of the month when they'd usually have their period,' explains Helen O'Dell, midwife. 'But your emotional state is also largely dependent on what else is going on in your life - if you're stressed at work, having problems at home or have just experienced a bereavement, this will play a large factor.'

Although you can't control your hormone levels or how they affect you, there are ways to cope when you're not feeling quite yourself:

Tearful

'At the beginning of my second trimester, I began crying at everything, even television commercials - and not just the sentimental ones, I wept at all of them.' Debbie Ellis, 26, 15 weeks pregnant

What to do: 'Tearfulness is a normal part of pregnancy,' explains Helen. 'Sometimes, holding things in can make you feels worse. So, if you feel that you want to cry, just go ahead and do it. Remember this is all part of the experience of pregnancy, so try to enjoy it and everything that comes with it.' If you're feeling generally low, take the opportunity to pamper yourself - have a bubble bath or a manicure, or whatever else relaxes you.

Rarely, excessive tearfulness can indicate depression - see When it's more serious, below, to find out more.

Irrational
'A few weeks back, I absolutely refused to go to bed without my husband, Vic. I threw a strop and wouldn't get under the covers until he was ready for bed, too. I just lay on top of the covers, eyes peeled open, waiting.' Toya Smith Marshall, 24, 19 weeks pregnant

What to do: You may be concentrating on little things and letting them distract you from your real concerns and fears about becoming a mum. 'Try to keep things in perspective,' says Helen. 'Speaking to your partner or midwife may help you sort through your feelings.'

Irritable
'I'm very snappy these days, especially with my husband. He allows me 10 'snaps' per day, which he chalks up to hormones, and anything after that I have to give him $1 per snap. Well, he's making a fortune - and I seem to have no control over what comes out of my mouth anymore.' Rhonda Hartlin, 29, 31 weeks pregnant

What to do: 'Try to stop and take time out before you say something you'll wish you hadn't,' advises Helen. 'Giving yourself time to rest is also important, as the more tired you are, the easier it is for your emotions to get the better of you. You may also find aromatherapy to be helpful.' Neroli oil, which is safe to use in your bath or in an oil burner throughout pregnancy, is excellent for alleviating stress, which may help you feel less irritable.

Anxious
'I sometimes find myself lying awake at night, terrified that I'll have absolutely no idea how to cope with anything after that first contraction.' Kirsten Redstick, 31, 34 weeks pregnant

What to do: Anxiety is often the result of worries about giving birth, or of how you'll handle being a mum, so try to relieve your concerns by thinking about them practically and preparing yourself for what's to come. 'Being aware of what's happening to you in pregnancy and what to expect is the best way of dealing with your anxiety,' says Helen.

Are hormones contagious?

Your pregnancy emotions won't just affect you, they'll affect the people around you, such as your partner, friends and colleagues, too. For many couples, their relationship blossoms during pregnancy, but the opposite may happen if your partner feels he's bearing the brunt of your mood swings. Helen advises, 'Keep your partner involved - taking him along to your antenatal classes is a great way to help him learn about what you're going through.' But remember he's going through a major life change, too, so don't use your hormones as an excuse to be nasty or insensitive to him. Talk to him about how you're feeling and always apologise if you've said something hurtful.

Bear in mind, though, that your work colleagues may be less forgiving if you're moody with them. You're likely to experience some level of stress at work anyway, so if you're feeling ready to snap, stop and take a break - go for a cup of tea or a brisk walk outside until you've calmed down.

When it's more serious
Some women suffer from antenatal depression. 'This can be difficult to recognise,' says Helen, 'as tearfulness and problems sleeping or eating are common in any pregnancy. But if you do feel overwhelmed, speak to your midwife.'

Exercise is a great way to help rid you of the blues because it acts to resolve so many of the reasons mums-to-be feel low in the first place. It can help keep you in shape, which will improve your self-esteem, it can help you prepare your body for birth, which in turn should make you feel more emotionally ready and finally, it can aid in managing stress. 'Antenatal yoga is especially effective as it's helpful both in toning the body and relaxing the mind,' says Helen. In extreme cases, your doctor may prescribe medication for your depression.

In your dreams
'The night before I gave birth, I dreamed that I delivered a black cat instead of a baby. I later found out that my grandmother had dreamt the same thing just before she gave birth to my mother.'

Amy Cleveland, 25, mum to Savannah, now five Even after you've drifted off to sleep, your pregnancy hormones are still acting to influence your thoughts and emotions. These are some of the most common pregnancy dreams and what they're thought to mean:

Giving birth to an animal, as described by Amy, above, is thought by most experts to be a mum-to-be's way of preparing herself for the responsibilities of taking care of a baby. In the case of many first-time mums, looking after a pet is the closest experience they've had to being totally responsible for the wellbeing of another.

Forgetting to decorate the nursery before you bring your baby home indicates that you're preparing yourself for your baby's arrival. In this case, your mind is likening material readiness to your own emotional preparations.

A cheating partner is bound to pop up in your dreams, especially after your bump starts to show. You may be feeling more self-conscious about your changing body shape and worried that your partner will no longer find you sexy.

Seeing your baby's face in your dreams, an help you face fears or mental blocks regarding the baby, such as preference for a boy or girl and its wellbeing.

Swimming in your dreams is usually thought to be your subconscious's attempts to identify with your unborn baby, who's floating around in your amniotic fluid. On the other hand, if in your dreams you're drowning, rather than swimming, this may indicate that you're worrying about how you'll 'keep your head above water' once your baby's born.

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