Understanding Pregnancy Hormones

When a pregnant woman eats something unusual, we blame hormones. When she is excited, we blame hormones. When she is grumpy, we blame hormones. Morning sickness? Hormones! For many things that happen during the 9 months of pregnancy, hormones get blamed for a lot. Let’s take a closer look at pregnancy hormones and how they affect the body, both physically and emotionally.

Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is the hormone that probably first alerted you to the fact that you were pregnant, as it is detected by pregnancy tests. This hormone prepares the body for the baby but also causes the tiredness and nausea/morning sickness of the first trimester. It is produced by the newly developing placenta after the fertilised egg implants into the lining of the womb. Levels of HCG increase rapidly in early pregnancy (this is why we buy sensitive pregnancy tests which can detect lower levels of HCG to give us an earlier result ? and why we retest every couple of days during the tense wait!)

Progesterone is the star of the show when it comes to pregnancy hormones. It is essential for your baby’s growth and development. Unfortunately it can also cause tenderness in the breasts, nausea and achy legs.

Oestrogen is essential for the healthy development of the placenta, but it is also the root cause of a lot of the exaggerated emotional feelings that occur during pregnancy. Being irritable, having mood swings and feeling overwhelmed can be attributed to this important hormone. Oestrogen controls the production of the other pregnancy hormones so it is very important. It also prepares the mother for breastfeeding.

Relaxin is a hormone that causes the joints and ligaments to relax and ease in preparation for the birth, it is produced from near the end of the first trimester and while it is essential for the body in order to allow the baby to grow and the body to accommodate this growth, it can cause aching joints, back pain and tiredness in the limbs. It can also affect the woman’s stability, so balance may be slightly off, making getting around a little more difficult.

Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced in larger quantities during labour; it is sometimes called the love hormone. It is thanks to oxytocin that the feelings of overwhelming love and the close bond between mother and baby are so strong. Prolactin does a similar thing and is important for milk production.

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Hormones are essential for life, whether you are pregnant or not. However, during pregnancy, levels of hormones increase rapidly and this does act on the brain to create thoughts, feelings and emotions that would otherwise be much less dominant. That is why pregnant women can seem to fixate on details, why they may get irritable easily or feel weepy and overwhelmed at times. The best way to deal with these feelings can sometimes be to remember that these emotional responses are exaggerated due to hormones, and that they will pass. In the meantime, patience is key.

Author: Arlene Copeland

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