Pregnancy and the Mind
Pregnancy refers to the period when a baby grows inside the mother’s womb. Usually lasting around nine months, human pregnancy is divided into three roughly equal trimesters. One of the early signs of pregnancy is a missed period, although a woman may also feel fatigued, have sore breasts, be sensitive to smells and certain foods, or run a low temperature. Some women start experiencing mood swings and morning sickness early on; others have no symptoms at all.
Certain factors can make a pregnancy more risky for both baby and mother, including the mother’s age (teenagers or women who are considered of "advanced maternal age"), diabetes, and high blood pressure. But expectant mothers, in general, should take steps to protect and enhance their emotional well-being as well as their physical health during this important time.
How Does Pregnancy Affect Mental Health?
Pregnancy and its attendant hormonal changes can have a significant impact on moms-to-be and their mental health. It’s normal for pregnant women to experience a wide range of emotions, from joy and excitement to bouts of anxiety and mood swings.
Paying attention to any emotional and psychological changes during and after pregnancy can help keep mother and baby safe and healthy. For instance, some women experience postpartum depression or other well-recognized conditions for which treatments are available. New or soon-to-be mothers and their families should be alert for feelings of anxiety, persistent sadness, or other symptoms that may reflect more than sleep deprivation.
How to Cope With the Pressure of Pregnancy
Even in the absence of depression or other forms of clinical distress, pregnant women may experience social and internal pressures that they neither want nor need. Expectant mothers are bombarded with information about what to eat, how to cope with morning sickness, the best way to give birth, and more. Women may receive unwelcome or disconcerting feedback about their behavior or their appearance during pregnancy.
Gaining a better understanding of the kinds of pressure that pregnant women face could help women—and those around them—beware of and avoid these stressors during pregnancy. Some of these may originate partly from within: For those who are already perfectionists, pregnancy may bring new desires to act a certain way, look a certain way, or make preparations for birth with impossibly high standards.
Those who are close to pregnant women should also be conscious of the potential negative impact of the pressure they put on women themselves—including, for example, passing remarks on a pregnant woman’s size. Researchers have found associations between experiences of weight stigma during pregnancy and reported stress and depression.