Pregnancy Hormones

Unfortunately, as a woman, you need to deal with the ups and downs of hormones from your teenage years right through adulthood. However, when you are pregnant, hormones have an enormous effect on your life and although they are normal they are likely to upset your life.

What are hormones?
Hormones are created by your body in order to stimulate another part of your body to do something. They are a chemical substance that are carried through your bloodstream to the area that requires stimulation. Hormones play a vital part in your pregnancy and you will become very aware of them in an emotional sense, even though their role is a very physical one. The main hormones involved in pregnancy are:


Hormone Function
HCG – Human Chorionic Gonadrophin HCG stimulates your ovaries to produce progesterone and this stops your period.  It is a high level of HCG that gives a positive result in a pregnancy test.
Progesterone Firstly it stops your period, then relaxes your womb muscles to prevent early contractions, helps your body prepare for baby’s growth. However it can also cause constipation and backache.
Oestrogen Strengthens your womb for implantation, helping the uterus to grow and developing the milk glands in your breasts.
Relaxin This softens your ligaments and prepares your body and pelvis to stretch more to allow baby through.
HPL – Human Placental Lactogen This is needed for the production of milk.
Oxytocin This stimulates your milk glands and also triggers contractions and Braxton Hicks. Oxytocin also promotes a feeling of sleepiness and wellbeing for mother and baby when breastfeeding
Endorphins Often referred to as ‘happy hormones’, they help you to deal with the pain and stress of pregnancy and labour.
Prolactin Increases milk production in your breasts

Although hormones are essential for pregnancy they do have many side effects including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Emotional and tearful
  • Grumpy and moody
  • Tiredness
  • Hair loss
  • Skin changes, including acne, glowing skin, rashes, linea nigra, chloasma
  • Gum problems
  • Thicker and shinier hair
  • Heartburn
  • Haemorrhoids
  • Increased libido
  • Reduced libido

Although many of these side effects are unpleasant it is important to remember that they will not last forever and will mostly go after the birth if not before. It is important that although these side effects are normal, you should seek medical help or advice if you feel you are suffering more than normal. For example, it is not good for you or your baby if you feel depressed for long periods or are so tired that you cannot function properly.

After the birth
After you have delivered your baby, some of these hormones and symptoms will disappear but some will remain and they are still very much needed.

Whether you have decided to breastfeed your baby or use formula, your body will still start to focus on producing milk for your baby.  Your body will produce higher levels of oestrogen, progesterone, prolactin and oxytocin to help produce the milk for your baby.

After the birth of your baby, your body needs to get used to no longer being pregnant. In order to do this, the levels of hormones quickly lower and this can have a huge impact on your emotions and feelings. You may be happy one second but very sad and tearful the next. This is a normal reaction and is often referred to as the ‘baby blues’.  Most women become affected by this around two or three days after the birth and shouldn’t last longer than ten days.

It is very important that you and your network of support ensure that you do not feel constantly sad, worried or angry and that these feelings are not making a major impact of your life.  If you feel that these emotions are overwhelming you, you should tell your midwife or health visitor as you may be suffering from post-natal depression.

There is no need for you to be ashamed if you believe you may be suffering from post-natal depression as up to 20% of women are thought to suffer.  There are many places and different people who can help you through this period including your health visitor, doctor and local children’s centre.


by Jenny, mum to William and James

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