The main pregnancy hormones and how they make you feel

The main pregnancy hormones and how they make you feel

Pregnancy is the most wonderful period in a woman’s life. It’s also strange and frustrating and confusing and magical and amazing in all its glory. Yes, pregnancy is a roller coaster where you simply seem to lose control of your own body. But who’s in charge? Why, hormones, of course! Those pesky little chemicals that control most of our bodily functions, from our mood or hunger to our growth and development. But it seems that during pregnancy hormones seem to go wild and take complete control. Getting to know them better and their effects on you will perhaps make things clearer and help you get past the more challenging periods easier. These are the main pregnancy hormones and how they make you feel.

1.    Progesterone

Also known as the ‘pregnancy hormone’, progesterone plays a crucial role both before and after pregnancy.

  • One side-effect in the sudden progesterone rise in the early stages of pregnancy is the mood swings and irritability that, thankfully, will ease off as the progesterone levels stabilize later on.
  • The rise in progesterone also increases your heart rate and your appetite. Have you heard of those pregnancy weird cravings? Blame it on progesterone.
  • Another effect of the progesterone surge in the first trimester is fatigue. Some women report that it got so bad that it interfered with their daily activities.
  • Progesterone has been known to affect the bowel movements, as a result, some women experience constipation.
  • As if all of this is not enough, in some cases, progesterone affects the mouth area as well. Gums may swell and bleed and something called pregnancy gingivitis may occur.

But don’t worry, progesterone levels tone down after the first trimester of the pregnancy and some of these symptoms ease off. As irritating as the effects that progesterone have on the body may be, without it there can be no pregnancy.

 

2.    Estrogen

Another super-important hormone in pregnancy is estrogen. Estrogen is naturally present in a woman’s body but during pregnancy, like progesterone, the levels rise. This leads to some visible effects on the body.

  • At the beginning of pregnancy, the levels of estrogen rise and one effect are increased levels of blood flow. In fact, there is an about 50% increase in blood volume which may result in some headaches.
  • Because of the increased level of blood, your kidneys will suddenly have to process a bigger amount of fluid which will cause a frequent need to urinate. This will disappear after the first trimester only to make a strong come-back in the third trimester when your uterus will press on your bladder.
  • Another effect of the estrogen is the thickening of soft tissues which may give you a very annoying stuffy nose.
  • Elevated estrogen levels and blood flow may cause spider veins to appear especially on your chest.
  • However, the increase in blood flow has a positive side: it gives you that pregnancy glow that everybody compliments.
  • Estrogen along with progesterone and the melanocyte stimulating hormone cause hyperpigmentation (skin discolouration) like the darkening of the nipples or the linea nigra (the dark line on your abdomen).

3.    Relaxin + Progesterone

  • These 2 hormones cause cartilages, joints and ligaments to soften. While this is crucial for birth, it puts a woman at greater risk for sprains.
  • They also have an impact on the smooth muscles of the body like the lower oesophagal sphincter which can cause heartburn and acid reflux.

4. Prolactin+Progesterone+Estrogen

  • The 3 hormones prepare the breasts for one of the most wonderful experience that motherhood brings: breastfeeding. 

5.    Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) hormone + Estrogen

  • Although it is not known for certain what causes the dreaded queasiness and nausea during pregnancy, it is believed that the production of HCG hormone and the spike in estrogen are connected to the morning sickness. You can read more about the causes and how to manage it here.

*According to Marlena S. Fejzo, PhD, Assistant Professor of Research, Department of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, USC, Department of Medicine, UCLA, about 2% of pregnant women experience something called hyperemesis gravidarum. Like the morning sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum occurs between the 4th and the 10th week of pregnancy. The symptoms include prolonged and severe nausea and vomiting. HG is a serious condition that, besides the acute discomfort, it can lead to dehydration, low blood pressure, loss of vitamins and minerals, weight loss and a build-up of acidic chemicals in the blood. So, if you get sick more often than normal, be sure to visit your GP. The good news is there is a treatment that can help you get through this safely. You can find more information on HG here.

 

When you list all the possible symptoms of pregnancy it may seem a little disconcerting, but a woman’s body is perfectly equipped to deal with all this, plus the birth itself. What’s more, there are slim chances that you will actually experience every single one of these symptoms. Some women have surprisingly easy pregnancies and there’s no reason to believe yours will be any different. Just keep in mind that, even though the internet is a useful source of information, regular visits to your GP are the key to a healthy pregnancy.

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