A woman’s basic personality will not be changed during her pregnancy, but subtle and minor changes will certainly occur. All women tend to become emotionally unstable at times when their hormone levels are at their highest, such as puberty, pregnancy, the menopause and also immediately before the onset of each menstrual period. It is well known that the majority of impetuous actions and crimes committed by women occur during the week immediately before menstruation.
The idea that your child is growing inside you is sufficient to create a degree of emotional instability, and the rapid rise in hormone levels during the first three months of pregnancy is a valid medical reason for all the emotional changes that may occur during this time. It is common for a girl who is highly delighted with her pregnancy and has few worries to burst into tears without the slightest provocation and to recover her normal gay personality a few minutes later. Women who are normally vivacious may be given to periods of depression, irritability, anxiety and ill-temper and those who are usually placid and quiet may have bursts of emotional irritability or even anger of which they are normally considered to be almost incapable.
In early pregnancy nausea and vomiting may produce a mild state of anxiety or depression. These are relieved when the nausea and vomiting cease at about the 14th week of pregnancy, but in the earlier stages most women require assurance that the abnormal amount of nausea and sickness are perfectly normal and will not harm either them or their baby.
The management of her other children may prove particularly difficult for the newly pregnant woman. Especially in the early stages, their annoying habits and characteristics with which she can normally cope quite adequately will irritate her beyond her self-control. If she is not very careful, her attitude towards her children will change into something that they consider to be completely unreasonable and she will find they associate her irritability and anger with her pregnancy; they will resent the new baby long before it arrives.
For similar reasons, even the most highly competent and efficient woman may find that her judgment is impaired. She may be inclined to make hasty decisions, her reasoning may not be as rational as it would normally be and her conclusions may be inaccurate and incorrect. It would, of course, be wrong to suggest that pregnant women are incapable, but a word of warning about emotional instability should make them consider things more carefully , and may prevent them from doing things and making decisions which they might subsequently consider to be unwise.
At the end of the 14th week of pregnancy, the nausea and sickness, as well as some of the lethargy, disappear. The appetite returns and with it there is frequently a complete change in attitude. It is at this stage that the characteristic good looks of pregnancy appear and with this also comes a more tolerant and understanding attitude.
The baby will first be felt moving somewhere between the 16th and the 2oth week. For the first time the woman is aware of the presence of a baby inside her uterus with which she can associate her pregnancy and all her symptoms. Her baby is now a reality for whom preparation must be made and over whom care must be taken. Her judgment will return to normal and although her personality may show a certain amount of emotional fluctuation, this will be less marked than previously.
The 28th week of pregnancy marks the date of viability, after which the baby is theoretically capable of leading a separate existence. In this last part of the pregnancy the mother is often anxious about the normality of the baby as well as apprehensive about its arrival. As the weeks progress the enlargement of the abdomen, together with a natural lethargy and tiredness, will often make her feel clumsy and irritable. She will become more dependent upon those around her.
As the expected date of confinement draws near she may well be subject to what is known as ‘the nesting instinct’. This is a very real phenomenon in which the pregnant woman will spring-clean the house and check that everything is ready for the new baby. She will be visiting the antenatal clinic more frequently and establishing a much closer relationship with the doctors and nurses who are to take care of her during her labour. This gradually creates a confidence which is of the utmost importance as it will go a long way towards allaying her fears and apprehensions.
Unthinking friends and relations may well regale her with unpleasant or even horrifying stories of their own experiences during pregnancy and childbirth. These will undoubtedly result in some increase in anxiety about her own welfare and she should have no hesitation whatsoever in asking as many questions as she wishes when she visits the antenatal clinic. Most of her fears will be absolutely groundless but it is very difficult for a woman so far advanced in pregnancy and feeling so intimately involved with the symptoms to differentiate truth from fiction.
The natural tiredness and clumsiness associated with the last stages of pregnancy will affect the mother’s mental outlook. She will tend to become bored with the continuation of the pregnancy and may become mildly depressed as a result of her inability to wear nice clothes or engage in her usual social activities. The last month of pregnancy frequently requires quite a lot of gentle encouragement as well as firm assurance. Depression often results from disappointment if labour does not start on the expected day, and as time passes with no sign of labour this is not helped by well- meaning friends, neighbours and members of the family who want to know why the baby is not yet born. ‘Are you still there ?’ is a kindly question calculated with infinite finesse to depress any anxious and long-suffering woman who is one or two weeks past her expected date of confinement.
Apart from these special times, it is well known that a pregnant woman’s personality becomes fragile, particularly in labour. An enquiring comment made with intended kindness may be misinterpreted as severe personal criticism and the reaction is a flood of tears.
But some of the emotional changes experienced during pregnancy are simply the result of boredom. This may be automatically corrected towards the end by the natural ‘nesting instinct’ which seems to overtake most women, and they busily clean and prepare for the new baby. Earlier in the pregnancy, if they are not working at their normal job, they should take up some occupation or part-time work.
Taking tranquillizers during pregnancy is not usually necessary nor is it entirely desirable. They should never be taken without first consulting the doctor. If a state of anxiety or depression persists the doctor and midwife should be notified. A small dose of a mild and innocuous antidepressant drug over three or four days can easily reverse a quite marked depression and anxiety can be relieved by a small dose of tranquillizer.
Since time began it has been the custom to consider that a baby is affected by his mother’s emotions during pregnancy—-that strange things might happen if she is frightened by peculiar sights or particular thoughts. This is most definitely untrue. There is no evidence that emotional disturbances of any sort can affect the welfare of the baby in the uterus, or that distressing sights or thoughts can affect the baby either mentally or physically. Excessive crying or sobbing cannot adversely affect a baby.
However, some women who suffer from a severe and profound shock, or who are involved in accidents which entail a physical shaking but do not suffer any severe or specific injury, may either miscarry or start premature labour. But it is seldom that even quite severe accidents have any effect on a pregnancy.