#1 Guide to Hormone Changes Pre and Post Pregnancy.

There is a lot of change that happens throughout the duration of pregnancy. These changes can vary from physical symptoms such as food cravings to emotional symptoms such as mood-swings. All these changes are due to rapid changes within the hormone levels of your body. With the birth of your baby, all these bodily changes begin to settle and are known as your post pregnancy hormone changes. 

To understand the changes at post pregnancy, an understanding of the hormones during pregnancy is necessary. 

At the start of pregnancy:

Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) begins to circulate, letting your body know when to stop your next menstrual period. HCG supports the corpeus luteum of the body to produce progesterone and oestrogen hormones, which will be important throughout the duration of pregnancy. HCG is expelled from the body through urine and is what is detected within urine pregnancy tests. 

Progesterone also assists with halting your menstrual period. Progesterone prepares the endometrium of the body to begin providing nutrients to the fetus.

During pregnancy: 

Oestrogen and progesterone levels are high. These hormones establish the placenta and support the growing foetus within the body. 

Progesterone inhibits contractions of the uterine muscles, preventing premature birth by relaxing the muscles of the uterus. Relaxin is secreted by the ovaries, placenta and uterine lining during pregnancy. Alongside progesterone, relaxin inhibits muscle contractions, preventing premature birth. Due to relaxin loosening the muscles and ligaments of the body, pregnant women are more prone to spraining or over-stretching muscles during their pregnancy. Your soft tissue occupational therapist can assist you with managing any sprains or injuries that may occur.

Oestrogen assists with triggering the growth of vital body organs within the foetus. It also allows the uterus to respond to the hormone oxytocin, which will spike right before labour. Oestrogen may cause symptoms such as nausea and increased appetite.  

Prolactin stimulates milk production within your body. It starts production during pregnancy and remains in body whilst you are breastfeeding. However, prolactin may cause potential mood swings, water retention and affect your metabolism and immune system.

During birth: 

Estrogen levels are at their peak before labour.

Oxytocin stimulates muscle contractions within the uterus, which starts and maintains the labour process. These contractions assist in pushing the baby out. 

During birth, relaxin promotes the rupture of membranes around the foetus, opens and softens the cervix, vagina and ligaments of the pelvis to assist with delivery of the baby. It can take up to 5 months post-birth until relaxin is gone from your system. During the time that relaxin is in your body, your muscles and joints are more prone to injury. A soft tissue occupational therapist can use hands on treatment approaches to help alleviate your pain and restore normal functioning of your tissues. An exercise physiologist can assist you in maintaining the strength of your body to reduce your likelihood of injury.

Post pregnancy hormone changes: 

After birth, oestrogen and progesterone rapidly drop down to pre-pregnancy levels. As these two hormones drop, there will be a surge in oxytocin and prolactin to compensate for the drop. The rapid change in hormones can be the cause of mood swings, strong feelings of emotion and potentially post-partum depression. Usually these symptoms will settle after a few weeks. However, book in to see your GP If these symptoms continue to occur.   

Oxytocin is sometimes known as the ‘love hormone’ due to its role in social behaviour surrounding sexual arousal, recognition, trust and anxiety. It also assists with mother-infant bonding, known as the ‘mother instinct’. Oxytocin can also promote lactation, to assist in breastfeeding the newborn.  

It is common after pregnancy for there to be a drop in the thyroid hormones produced within the thyroid gland of the neck. These hormones assist with the metabolism of your body. Low thyroid levels may cause weight gain, depression, difficulties with sleep and concentration. If you are experiencing these symptoms, book in to see your GP. 

Post-partum 3-6 weeks:

Any mood swings or high emotions should begin to settle as you get into the routine of caring for your newborn. However, mood swings and high emotion can be prolonged due to sleep deprivation. Symptoms of postpartum depression will be more apparent at this stage. Symptoms may involve: feelings of anger, emptiness, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, crying, irritability, restlessness, loss of appetite, unwanted thoughts, feeling worthless, withdrawal or loss of concentration.

6 months:

At the 6-month mark there should be a decrease in the hormone prolactin once your baby starts weaning and eating solid food. This hormone will remain in the body for as long as you continue to breastfeed. Women who use baby formula are more likely to have a reduction in prolactin sooner. Prolactin symptoms will still be occurring if you are still breastfeeding, otherwise should have no other hormonal symptoms.

The 6 month mark is when your hormones should have returned to their normal pre-pregnancy levels. This is roughly around the time when the menstrual period begins again, signifying that your hormones have returned to normal, or your pre-pregnancy levels. 

Hormone imbalance

It is not uncommon for there to be hormone imbalances after pregnancy. There are a lot of changes occurring in your body during this time period. 

Here are some symptoms to be aware of that may signify a change in hormone levels:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low libido
  • Weight gain
  • Cysts/fibroids
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Poor sleep

If you have had a hormone imbalance prior to pregnancy, it is likely the hormone balance will return during post pregnancy hormone changes.

Below is a table summarising the main hormones we have talked about. These hormones are part of pre and post pregnancy changes. 

Human chorionic gonadotropin-Supports the function of the corpeus luteum to produce progesterone and oestrogen
-Tells ovaries to stop producing and maturing eggs.
Progesterone-Establishes the placenta
-Keeps uterine muscle relaxed
-Prevents ovulation
-Helps prepare for labour by softening soft tissue 
Estrogen-Helps the uterus grow
-Trigger growth of organs within foetus
-Allows uterus to respond to oxytocin
-Prepares breasts for milk production
Relaxin-Inhibits uterine contractions to prevent premature birth
-Relaxes blood vessels 
-Loosens the ligaments holding the pelvis together to facilitate birth
Oxytocin-Oxytocin stimulates contractions of the uterine muscles for labour
-Stretches the cervix
-Promotes lactation
-Stimulates the mother-baby bond
Prolactin-Stimulates milk production
-Prepares breast tissues for lactation and milk release

Below are some graph depicting the levels of each of these hormones throughout pregnancy. 

If you are still experiencing ‘looseness’ in your muscles, any aches, pains, strains or sprains, book in to see a soft tissue occupational therapist or exercise physiologist. 

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment focuses on treating musculoskeletal disorders of the body through diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. A soft tissue occupational therapist will be able to provide pain relief through hands-on massage treatments such as trigger point therapy, myofascial release or dry needling.

See an exercise physiologist

Exercise physiologists use exercise as therapy, in other words, prescribe exercise as ‘medicine’. They will assist with preventing injury, managing injury, and improving physical functioning. Their therapy is ‘hands-off’ as they provide you with appropriate exercises and stretches.

If you would like pain relief or a strengthening program, book in to see a Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist or Exercise Physiologist at Urban Health HQ. You can make an appointment today or contact us by calling 0411 563 391 or email kristen@urbanhealthhq.com.au 

Published by Urban Health HQ

We are a health and fitness centre offering Occupational Therapy, Exercise Physiology, Personal Training and Group Fitness classes.

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