There are plenty of things that you might expect to happen when you’re pregnant: morning sickness (which is misnamed — it’s often “all day sickness”), feeling exhausted, and craving bizarre combinations of food. But one thing that many pregnant people experience, but that might take you by surprise, is feeling pissed, at everything and everyone. No matter how much you wanted to be pregnant or what other stressors are going on in your life, many people are caught by surprise at how irritable, weepy, or just plain angry they can feel during pregnancy.
I consider myself a pretty even-keeled person, and was taken by surprise by how much pregnancy changed that. When we showed our father-in-law an early black-and-white ultrasound picture, he joked that our baby-to-be looked like “a puppy.” I was furious with him, and then cried about this silly joke... six separate times. I both knew that it wasn’t that bad (I’d never been so offended by a joke of his before!), and couldn’t change the way I felt, which was some combination of both angry and devastated. But why does pregnancy often make you so irritable? And what’s normal irritability versus something to be concerned about?
Is it normal to feel irritated during pregnancy?
In a word, yes. When you take into account all the physical realities of pregnancy, which can include nausea, constipation, insomnia, pain, and exhaustion, just to name a few, it would be strange if you didn’t feel somewhat peeved. And that’s before you get into the hormonal shifts that pregnancy can bring. “It’s normal for expectant parents to experience feelings of irritability or anxiety during their pregnancy. Just as many individuals notice a shift in mood each month before their period starts, a pregnant individual might experience some mood fluctuations as their hormones surge and stabilize in order to establish and maintain the pregnancy,” Kirsten Brunner, Licensed Professional Counselor and perinatal specialist, tells Romper via email.
What is normal pregnancy irritability and when should you be concerned?
“General irritability, moodiness, or even some weepiness are usually nothing to be concerned about if the pregnant individual is also experiencing feelings of joy, general optimism, and positivity,” Brunner explains. But if you’re feeling miserable all the time, you should take that seriously. For someone who finds themselves “feeling consistently irritable, rageful or hopeless,” Brunner says, “I would encourage them to talk with their doctor, a counselor, and/or a psychiatrist.”
Though postpartum depression has finally gotten some attention as a serious condition in recent decades, antenatal depression isn’t a word that most people know. Research suggests that about 7% of pregnant women experience depression during pregnancy, and major irritability can be a symptom of depression. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACGOG), untreated antenatal depression can increase your risk for postpartum depression. Depression can present many different ways and some people — even some doctors — don’t realize that feeling angry and on edge can be a symptom of depression. But NPR reported that there is a “strong link between irritability and depression” and that approximately one in three depressed people experience “overt irritability or anger.” So, if you feel yourself feeling consistently angry in a way that interferes with your life, don’t dismiss it as just “pregnancy hormones.”
What can help you feel less irritable during pregnancy?
Obviously, the simplest solution to any pregnancy-related issue is, you know, have your baby (though that’s not exactly a solution to this problem — the sleep deprivation of the newborn days can make even the calmest person want to throw things and scream). In the meantime, Brunner suggests that pregnant people try to get as much rest as possible. Pregnancy is exhausting, and exhausted people are more likely to be irritable. Another thing that might help is letting go of the idea that you need to tie up every loose end at your job and have an Instagram-worthy nursery by the time your baby gets here. Pregnant people, Brunner says, “Might feel that they need to accomplish as much as possible before baby arrives, but it just as important that they make time for replenishing activities and relaxation. The more that they take care of themselves and their body before the birth, the more prepared they will be for the postpartum period.”
Kirsten Brunner, Licensed Professional Counselor and perinatal specialist