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Hormones can make the average woman feel like laughing, screaming, and crying—all at the same time. Combine this with the fears and frustrations of pregnancy and it’s no wonder some moms-to-be are prone to bawling.Diane Rixon of Tallahassee, FL, had a meltdown at her ob/gyn near the end of her pregnancy. “I just started sobbing during my visit with him. I continued to cry after he left the room. I cried as I got dressed. I cried at the checkout desk. Then I drove to the nearest park and sat in the car and bawled my eyes out for about 20 minutes,” Rixon admits.
Why We Cry
Expecting a baby doesn’t guarantee you’ll turn into a weeping mess, but it can push your moods to the extreme. According to Renée M. Bibeault, M.D., who specializes in women’s mental health and reproductive psychiatry in Seattle, crying is an understandable reaction to the stress. “There are, after all, labor and delivery, sleep deprivation, and the challenges of parenthood to anticipate. Heightened emotions are also likely related to the fluctuation of our hormones,” Bibeault says.
Although research doesn’t confirm that women cry more often during pregnancy, we do cry more than men—four times more, according to William Frey II, Ph.D., a biochemist and professor at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Frey, also the author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, says that the hormone prolactin may be involved in tear production and secretion. Women have 60 percent higher levels of prolactin in their blood than men, and its presence is even more pronounced during pregnancy, because prolactin is responsible for stimulating milk production.
Although the exact chemical composition of tears is unknown, emotional tears are definitely different from the tears that lubricate our eyes and those caused by irritations such as dust or onions, because they contain a 24 percent higher concentration of proteins. “There must be a reason for this difference,” Frey says.
Also detected in tears is the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). A predictor of stress, ACTH has been linked to high blood pressure, heart problems, peptic ulcers, and other such conditions.
Are Tears Healthy?
Unfortunately, we tend to deprive ourselves of emotional tears. “There is a troubling idea in our culture that crying is a silly, ‘hysterical’ behavior—something people do in a moment of weakness,” Bibeault says.
Mary Beth Myers, a mother of three in Pittsburgh, PA, especially hated to tear up during disagreements with her husband while pregnant. “All I could do was cry. I felt it made me appear manipulative or weak,” Myers says. She also tried to avoid crying in front of her children, so as not to upset or scare them.
Restraining our tears, however, could be detrimental to our health. “Crying is an excretory process. We’re removing either waste products or harmful materials,” Frey says. “We may be removing, in our tears, chemicals that build up during stress. Literally, we might be ‘crying it out.’ ”
Psychologists have long believed crying is an important part of the grieving process and contributes to emotional healing. According to a study conducted by Frey, 85 percent of women say they feel less sad and angry after crying.
“Most women do find it an enormous stress reliever and feel more emotionally balanced after a good cry. Other women use meditation, exercise, sex, or venting to a trusted friend to achieve the same emotional release,” Bibeault says. “These activities, like crying, have been found to produce hormones, endorphins, and other neurochemicals that relieve anxiety and elevate mood.”
“If I was alone, I’d sometimes wallow in crying,” Myers says. She particularly enjoyed the emotions brought on by The Learning Channel show A Baby Story. “It felt good to allow myself to experience those tears, because they were tears of joy.”
Although excessive crying or persistent feelings of sadness should be discussed with a doctor, if you’re just in need of a good emotional release, grab a box of tissues and go ahead and cry, baby!
Susan Graham’s pregnancy mood swings were relatively moderate, but she admits losing it over silly things, like commercials that tugged at her maternal heartstrings. She is the mother of three children, ages 2, 5, and 8.