Are you expecting and feeling more emotional than usual? Manage your pregnancy emotions and mood swings by making sure you eat the right foods writes consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh.
We have all seen the stereotypical image of the pregnant woman crying over the littlest thing, but it comes as a shock to many of us to find that it’s true! Hormones, tiredness, body changes, anxiety about labour and birth, and lack of sleep combine to make even the most resilient woman lose it from time to time. Don’t panic, it is normal to have mood swings – to go from happy-go-lucky to quivering wreck in the space of just two minutes. Your whole worldview can change and you look at babies, children and other pregnant women with new eyes and a new understanding. This is often the time many women feel guilty for the nasty thoughts they had about other pregnant women ‘dossing off’ from work because they felt sick or tired, or parents leaving early to pick up kids.
Although we can’t remove the hormones or stop the bump from disturbing your sleep, eating the right foods at the right times can help balance mood and make it easier for you to get through the day.
Look after your blood sugar
There are big changes to blood sugar during pregnancy as your body fuels you and your baby. Your insulin levels are higher and insulin’s job is to lower your blood sugar levels. Add the extra demands your body has for fuel, and you can go from a high to a relatively low blood sugar level quite quickly. Don’t worry – this is not the kind of low blood sugar that will make you pass out but it is the kind that can drop your mood like a stone. Ever heard of hangry? Hungry and angry? We all know lots of people that are just not human when they are in need of food and many pregnant women run into this problem. It is not about eating constantly, but you do need your regular meals and it’s important to keep some snacks handy.
Although the first thing we think of when we hear low blood sugar is a pile of sweets, try to go more for slow release carbs at meals like wholegrain bread, porridge, pulses (bean salads, hummus), wholegrains like quinoa and buckwheat and baked potatoes. Do keep an eye on portion sizes – you want to manage blood sugar, not gain 40lbs. Keeping slow-release carbs to about one-third of your meal will help to manage blood sugars without adding excess weight. And don’t skip meals – getting breakfast, lunch and dinner in everyday will help (morning sickness aside…)
Some well-chosen snacks can also help. Again look for slow release foods and choose something that will really nourish you and your baby. A handful of almonds or hazelnuts with some dried fruit can be a handy standby. Yoghurt is great (and please don’t worry about the natural sugar in a yoghurt – it’s absolutely fine). Cheese and wholegrain crackers are good too. As you get further along in your pregnancy you will find yourself hungrier in between meals, so it is great to have some healthy snacks to hand for when you need them.
B vitamins have been shown to help reduce tiredness and fatigue and they are also important for good psychological health. This makes them a great nutrient to focus on when it comes to balancing mood. Where do we find B vitamins? In lots of different places actually. B12 and B2 are found in dairy foods like milk and yoghurt. Whole grains are a good source of thiamin (vitamin B1), so look for wholegrain breads and breakfast cereals. Vitamin B6 is found in meat and fish. Fish is a great place to get a lot of the B vitamins we need. Breakfast cereals that have been fortified with B vitamins are also a good choice (but do try to opt for wholegrain varieties).
Fish and fish oils
Not just good for your baby’s brain, the fish oils EPA and DHA may help to balance mood and decrease anxiety. Oil-rich fish is the best place to get these essential omega-3s. Try salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines. It doesn’t matter if these are fresh, frozen or tinned. Just remember that pregnant women do need to avoid swordfish, shark and marlin and limit fresh tuna to once a week. Tinned tuna doesn’t have any omega-3 so, although it is a great source of protein and vitamin D, you will need to eat either fresh tuna or other tinned fish to get your DHA. Try to have fish two to three times a week. If you really hate fish, then talk to your dietitian or pharmacist about suitable pregnancy fish oil supplements.
Rest and sleep
Although a full night’s sleep may be a distant dream at this stage, getting as much rest as you can will do wonders for your mood. Even if you can just sit for 20 minutes during the day, do. Cat-napping is also great. It is not always possible (and you have no hope if you already have kids), but if you can even close your eyes for 20 minutes it can help you feel refreshed. I used to take 20 minutes in the car before I started the drive home from work. I was much more human when I arrived back.
Stop trying to do everything
A lot of pregnant women, especially towards the end, get frustrated that they can’t get everything done. You need to accept that you are slower, both physically and even occasionally mentally. Try to edit your to-do list, and pass off as much as you can to others. Take yourself off committees and choose nights out wisely. Stress alone makes you tired, so giving yourself less to do and more time to cat-nap will help lift your mood.
What if things are really bad?
Depression can hit in pregnancy just as at any other time in life. If you find your mood is really low, don’t ignore it. You are more likely to suffer from postnatal depression if you feel depressed during your pregnancy, and by then you will have a little baby and even less sleep to deal with as well. Talk to someone: your GP, your public health nurse, or your best friend. People want to know and they want to help. Don’t go it alone when there is so much help out there.
More like this:
Mental health in pregnancy
8 ways to feel great during pregnancy
Pre-natal depression: symptoms and support