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Understanding Prenatal Mood Swings

QUESTION: I just found out my wife of one year is two-months pregnant and am very excited about the birth of our new baby. My wife, who generally does not eat healthfully, now wants me to eat whatever she has to and won't tolerate me eating anything else. Her mood swings are terrible. I don't know what to do?

ANSWER: This is a tremendous period of change, psychologically for you both, and physically for your wife. Let her know that you love her and are there to support her through the pregnancy and childbirth, but that you cannot experience the physical changes exactly as she will. Ask her to share any resentments or negative feelings she has about the pregnancy. Do not shy away from hearing her feelings, and be careful that you do not pressure her to have only positive feelings and anticipations for this child or her pregnancy. But do set limits on her unrealistic desire for you to experience her pregnancy through her physical hardships.

It is natural for your wife to experience mood swings related to enormous changes in her body at this time. Be sympathetic and proactive in helping her adjust to early discomforts of pregnancy, including nausea and tiredness. Her body is doing a tremendous amount of work, but it is so far invisible to most people. Let her know that you do not expect her to do everything she has been doing, and consider that the first trimester is a period of adjustment. She will likely appear more emotionally stable to you as she enters her second trimester, and her body is better adjusted to pregnancy.

You are becoming a father, while your wife is becoming a mother to your new child. Though it will be important to share equally in your responsibility to care for this child, your roles will be different at varying periods in your family development. These responsibilities will need to be negotiated based on many different things, but pregnancy and childbirth are certainly not experiences that can be shared 50/50! As your wife enters the second trimester of pregnancy, she will be more likely to be able to focus on the future. For now, accept her resentments that she is the one who will physically experience the changes (good and bad!) of carrying your child. And when she is willing, engage her in more fruitful discussion about the coming changes of parenthood in your life together.

When your wife has found her equilibrium with the pregnancy, begin to discuss your feelings with her. What is fatherhood bringing up for you? How were roles and responsibilities in your family shared? What is your vision of the kind of relationship you want to have with this child when he or she is born? How do you anticipate sharing caretaking responsibilities? Ask your wife what becoming a mother means to her? What kind of relationship did she have with her mother? father? And what kind of family relationships does she envision? Include and discuss concerns and particularly fears about becoming a parent. And ask your wife to tell you her feelings about pregnancy and upcoming childbirth.

It is also important to discuss your feelings about becoming a father with other fathers and fathers-to-be. It is through your relationship with other men that you will be able to feel an affiliation with your community and establish a strong sense of identity as a parent. Include your wife in your growth, but do not depend on her to share in all of your preparations. Seek out other men at this time to share your frustrations and anticipations. My book, An Easier Childbirth, offers exercises for pregnant women to share and experience with their husbands as they travel through the pregnancy.

Do not panic about your wife's current emotionalism. There may be much she is afraid of that she has not begun to share with you. Her experience of her childhood family relationships will serve as a clue to concerns that may igniting her resentments. The quality of her relationship to her parents, and her perception of her parents marital relationship come up as key issues during pregnancy. Attune yourself to her experience of being female in her family. Were women respected? abandoned in parenthood? devalued or valued as mothers? Did she see her mother's experience of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting as empowering or shameful? Did she view her mother's role as a parent to be positive or negative? Naturally, there is much to be explored and it cannot all happen at once.

Avoid getting overly frustrated by expecting to get all of what you need from her right now. Expect to develop discussions about feelings as the pregnancy progresses. Attend prenatal visits, learn about nutrition, and plan on attending childbirth classes together.

Your wife will no doubt open up to you as she experiences the baby move (about 4 months gestation) and prepares for childbirth. But your feelings about becoming a father need not wait for her! Seek out support for understanding yourself and the tremendous changes that the pregnancy is bringing up for you as a new father. Explore your relationship to your own father and the ways you want to experience fatherhood in your family life. And congratulations on becoming parents!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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