Pregnancy: Is irritability normal during pregnancy?

I am four months pregnant with my first child and I find myself exploding at my husband over very ridiculous issues. This starts an argument and then I end up crying. I feel like a terrible person. This may be an irrelevant question, but is increased irritability during pregnancy normal?


Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

I never find questions such as yours irrelevant; they are among the most important questions because they deal with our deepest feelings about who we are as women and mothers.

Very few of us have the gift of believing that we are good enough, organized enough, wealthy enough, supported enough, and feel good enough about ourselves and our abilities to be truly good mothers. And in the society of today we have little time enough for ourselves and our partners that we can contemplate the demands of mothering.

On top of this we have the mistaken notion that unless we are able to do it all and be all things to our mates, our other children, our extended family and our community, that we have failed.

Pregnancy stresses every resource we have. Even the simplest job can take on monumental importance and effort. We have been brainwashed to believe that pregnancy should have little impact on our lives, relationships and bodies when indeed it strongly impacts each of these. It is true that each woman has her own unique adaptation but there are some universal things that all pregnant women need beyond the physical requirements.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to support a pregnant woman. And our society is doing a very poor job. Pregnancy requires an additional two hours of sleep at night with frequent rest breaks and alloted time for exercise and eating healthy foods and visits to her care provider.

The mother additionally needs time alone to contemplate her new role and consider how the baby will be accommodated into the family. She needs time and patience to nurture the other children in the home so they will gain the self-esteem that it requires to adapt to a new sibling.

She needs time alone with her partner to recommit to the marriage or partnership bond, keep communication open and just touch base every day.

She needs to be "mothered," respected, supported and pampered. In a supportive community environment, her own mother would be a great mentor but today that mother may be distant physically as well as emotionally.

And women who have experienced physical or emotional hardships in their lives or are in high-risk pregnancies need this even more. And who is there to supply all of this if everyone in the family and community is already stretched to the maximum?

Yes, it is normal to be irritable, to feel frustrated and taken advantage of, and the predominant reason that women feel this way is because there is often not enough support from partners, family and community members, employers and the "system" in general.

The expectant mother is still a fully functioning member of the family and her community but she can only do this if she feels that she is valued.

Whenever I recommend counseling, I inevitably hear "oh, it's not that bad," or "I'm not that crazy." But I feel that a good marriage and family therapist is someone who can facilitate communication within the family and prevent serious trouble in the marriage. Sometimes, men do not understand the emotional changes and needs of pregnancy; they are often overwhelmed themselves.

If you are progressively more irritable, it is a sign that you may not be getting the support you need and I would highly recommend that you discuss this with your provider who should be able to get you a referral to a counselor in your area. This is so important to do now before your feelings of depression and unworthiness become entrenched patterns in your marriage and parenting.

Read everything you can by authors such as Bing, Coleman, Kitzinger, Simpkin and Brazelton. Klaus and Kennel have written a book called "Mothering the Mother" about woman-to-woman support in labor with the use of a doula. A doula will often help before the baby is born and can put you in touch with support groups in your area for expectant mothers. Your clinic may also have notices of community support groups. These often later become play groups for the children and can help you survive after the baby as well. It is so helpful to know that you are not alone and all pregnant women are going through the same emotions.

I'm sorry this got so long but as you can tell I do think you're normal, but just need more support as do all pregnant women at such a time in their lives. I wish you the best.

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