The Emotional Sensitivity of Pregnancy. Handling Pregnant Mama's with Care.
Pregnancy and childbirth mark a significant life transition for a woman and her family. The profound changes that take place occur on many levels, including the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. Whilst most of the focus is on the amazing physical changes that occur in pregnancy for women, it is affirming and important to acknowledge the very normal and even universal emotional themes that run through the trimesters of pregnancy and the preparation for birth.
Pregnancy is a time of acute and heightened emotions due to the massive amount of circulating hormones that are integral to the normal growth and development of the unborn baby. The first hormone to make its appearance after conception is human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG); it is hCG that is picked up by a urine or blood test to determine pregnancy.
In a normal pregnancy, the level of hCG approximately doubles about every two days during the first 10 weeks, this is indeed tiring and emotional work!!! hCG keeps the predominant pregnancy hormones known as oestrogen and progesterone at their appropriate levels until the placenta has developed enough to take over this function. This occurs at around the 12-week mark, or at the beginning of the second trimester.
Oestrogen is considered as the big kahuna of pregnancy hormones and is vital to the healthy progression of a pregnancy. This busy hormone produced by the ovaries and later by the placenta, helps the uterus to grow, maintains the uterine lining and activates and regulates the production of other essential hormones. The other predominant hormone of pregnancy is progesterone, which is manufactured first by the ovaries and then the placenta when it takes over around the beginning of the second trimester. Progesterone keeps the placenta functioning properly and the uterine lining healthy and thick and promotes the growth of breast tissue.
It is no surprise that given the enormous surges and fluctuations in these circulating hormones during pregnancy that pregnancy is often described as an emotional rollercoaster, where women can experience rapid highs and lows, sometimes even in the course of minutes. Let’s explore some common emotions that may arise for women trimester by trimester.
FIRST TRIMESTER: The first trimester of pregnancy is a time of integrating the fact that you are pregnant, for some women who have really wanted a child this will be a joyous and celebratory time, for others it will be a total surprise, where they will feel stunned, shocked or in total disbelief. For others who had not planned on a baby, their initial reaction may be to feel very unhappy, stressed and overwhelmed.
There can be a very normal feeling of ambivalence in early pregnancy that is common to an unplanned or unexpected pregnancy. This can be further exacerbated by the physical discomforts associated with the first trimester, these mums will need extra support and understanding to assist them to integrate their pregnancy.
How your partner responds to your pregnancy news can also greatly influence your emotional state, you may feel angry or disappointed at his response which may lead to feelings of rejection and depression, it is important to understand that men can also experience a wide range of emotions in finding out they are going to be a father and that they will also often need time to integrate the news of the pregnancy and their feelings around it.
For those mamas who have had a long and arduous road to achieve a successful pregnancy or to carry a baby to term, those early weeks may be consumed with fear and anxiety that they may lose another desperately wanted baby. So, whilst some women will be dreading the sore breasts, severe nausea, fatigue, abdominal bloating and constipation that are common to the first trimester there are others who are relying on these symptoms to assist them to feel confident that their baby is developing well. Fear of miscarriage can be extremely stressful and often these mamas may put their bonding “on hold” for fear they will be attaching to a baby that may not survive, the actual process of intentional connection and fostering that connection even in very early pregnancy is a key component to developing a strong spiritual bond with your baby and helping you both to maintain the pregnancy.
The extreme fatigue and nausea often experienced by women during their first trimester can make them feel very despondent, incapable and dependent on others, especially if they have other children and are trying to work. Being, really sick, dependent on work colleagues and or a partner can lead to tension and stress, not to mention impact on the feelings of joy they wish they were experiencing and the consequent guilt that often arises due to feeling miserable physically. These mothers need to be reminded of the enormous physical task that growing a new human is and to know that it is ok to ask for extra support at this time in their life.
SECOND TRIMESTER: During your second trimester, it is common for the nausea and fatigue of early pregnancy to subside around the 14 week mark and most women will feel at the peak of their health and experience renewed energy and enthusiasm. At this point for most women their growing belly has become obvious and their baby begins to move which gives mum a more visceral and tangible sense of their presence in the womb. These movements can also be shared with partners, which also makes baby’s presence real to them, this exciting milestone enhances the joy and excitement of the ne baby and facilitates bonding for the whole family.
The second trimester is often the time that a mother begins to reflect on their own childhood and their relationship with their parents, especially their mother. It is natural for women to need support from their mother during pregnancy, depending on your relationship and belief systems, this can sometimes be accompanied by conflicting ideas that surface between mothers and daughters around the care you receive during pregnancy, the role of your caregivers and particularly the adoption of certain parenting styles.
Modern parents that I encounter in my holistic birthing business are very discerning about using complementary therapies in pregnancy, of the importance of conscious birthing methods, use healthy questioning in regards to the safety and efficacy of vaccinations and are aware of the tremendous value of using positive parenting methods. Whilst discussions around these issues can sometimes cause tension, and feelings of confusion, in the long run, they can often bring you closer to your parents who will develop a whole new level of pride and respect for you as you navigate your way to becoming a parent. I have seen many a nanny initially abhorred by the idea of “baby-led weaning” for example, see it in action and then become a great advocate for the practice.
Carrying your own baby, if you have come from a seriously abusive family can trigger past unresolved trauma sometimes involving certain sexual shadows including violation and shame. These emotions can have a strong impact on your emotional wellbeing in pregnancy, your ability to bond with your baby and how you are able to prepare positively for birth. Seeking the support of an experienced counsellor is paramount for you to work through these emotions, as is sharing this information with your caregivers. Birth is the ultimate sexual experience, so ensuring you feel safe and supported at all times whilst you process and integrate from past negative experiences is crucial to a positive pregnancy and birth experience.
Many women during the second trimester experience extremely vivid dreams, it is not uncommon for women to dream that there is something physically wrong with their baby or that something terrible is going to befall their partner. They can become unusually worried is their partner is home late, or out of contact. Fears for your partner’s and baby’s health are very normal and again talking these feelings out with your partner /caregiver and if need be a counsellor are very important for the emotional wellbeing for the mother.
THIRD TRIMESTER: By late pregnancy, you may well be feeling more physically tired again, if you have kids you might find that you are needing to go to bed when they do, frequenting the bathroom continually or experiencing that very twilight zone space that is pregnancy insomnia can be very draining physically and emotionally.
You could also be feeling overwhelmed at getting your home prepared for the baby, completing and fulfilling your responsibilities at work, and rather than being concerned for your partner’s health and wellbeing, it is at this stage that most women really contemplate how exactly they are going to manage the intensity of birth and prepare for it positively.
I am always stunned at how many couples I encounter during late pregnancy who think it is a marvellous idea, to move house or completely renovate their home just before their baby is due? This added stress impacts strongly on a mother’s already heightened levels of anticipation and anxiety and does nothing to support the “nesting instinct” that sees many heavily pregnant mother’s spring cleaning and scrubbing floors late at night!
If you have other children you may become worried about how they are going to adjust to a new baby or indeed how you are going to make the room in your heart for someone else when your love for them is so strong. This is a very normal emotional response and I always tell my Hypnobirthing parents not to worry as once their new baby arrives everyone in the family will instantly burst another heart chamber to embrace their new family member.
Third trimester for some women can mean that they begin to feel depressed and worried about the size of their body, clothes can feel uncomfortable and many mamas can feel clumsy and awkward as their bump expands rapidly. Taking care in early pregnancy to honour the uniqueness and beauty of your growing pregnant body, addressing any underlying body image issues with an appropriate practitioner and engaging in self-loving practices will assist you to foster and maintain a positive body image. See my previous article on Affirming Self-Love in Pregnancy. (Link here Sharon?)
It is in late pregnancy where many women describe feeling spaced out or having “pregnancy brain”, there may be much more daydreaming about birth, breastfeeding and caring for your new baby, and a general pre-occupation with all that is involved in preparing your loving space for your new baby.
The last four weeks of pregnancy and particularly from 40 weeks onward, can be where the real rollercoaster of emotions presents for mothers. It is common to feel very relaxed and patient for baby to come in their own timing on any given day, and then to feel impatient, exhausted exacerbated and even desperate that they arrive the next!
Unless your caregivers are fully aligned with the normal physiological processes of pregnancy and birth, which includes the knowledge that a normal pregnancy can be anywhere between 37-42+ weeks, I am saddened to say that far too many women encounter undue pressure to birth their baby’s to individual practitioners and hospital timelines. This can cause a great deal of anxiety and stress for heavily pregnant mamas, as they are often threatened by caregivers and guilted into unnecessary interventions and inductions. This is where a positive and evidence based Childbirth Education program such as The Hypnobirthing Australia program I teach can make all the difference to support parents to communicate effectively with their caregivers and make informed choices for their baby.
Helpful suggestions for supporting the emotional waves and sensitivities in pregnancy include:
Maintaining an excellent diet and exercise program and keeping well hydrated.
Using the very safe and effective Australian Bushflower Essences to align you to emotional balance.
Practicing consistent self-care. See my article on Self Love in Pregnancy.
Engaging in a Childbirth Education Program that will prepare you positively with tools and information to feel confident for birth. See my article on The Power of Hypnobirthing
Communicating your changing feelings openly and honestly with your partner and caregivers.
Keeping a journal as an effective way to channel and process your emotions.
Engaging in creative forms of expression as another outlet for your emotions, prayer,ritual,painting, sketching, sculpting, singing and dancing.
Ultimately, pregnant women and those all around them need to appreciate their heightened sensitivities and acknowledge and accept these feelings as being both valid and important. A sense of trust and gratitude that all of the emotional intensity of pregnancy is also paving the way for an adjustment to the equally challenging emotional pathways of motherhood is reassuring too.
So next time you come across a tired, cranky and emotional pregnant mama, give her a big hug, listen to her and reassure her that it is all worth it once she looks upon her baby’s shining face!