how to manage pregnancy emotions
Health

How to manage pregnancy emotions

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…)

how to manage pregnancy emotions

Snacks

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

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.

how to manage pregnancy emotions

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

ASK JESSICA

Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.

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ASK LUCY

Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….