Hormones & Pregnancy: Understand The Changes
11 December 2019
During pregnancy, your body goes through a whole range of amazing changes, to help the baby develop and to prepare you for giving birth. We want to help you understand the changes to your hormones that come with pregnancy, with tips for your partner on how to help you feel supported, understood and cared for during your pregnancy.
Hormonal Changes in Pregnancy
Some of the physical changes you may experience during your pregnancy include fluid retention, hair loss, nail brittleness and stretch marks. You may no longer enjoy the taste of foods you liked or find yourself craving foods you used to hate – and you might experience an increased sensitivity to certain smells. You’ll also experience fluctuating hormone levels – hormones play a vital role in pregnancy, aiding in foetal development and preparing you for childbirth.
The 5 main hormones at work during pregnancy are:
Along with progesterone, oestrogen is one of the chief pregnancy hormones. Oestrogen levels increase significantly in pregnancy and help with the development of the foetus, aiding in the growth of organs and other bodily systems. Oestrogen can also cause nausea and make ligaments softer, putting pressure on your pelvis and lower back.
Increases in progesterone during pregnancy cause loosening of ligaments and joints throughout the body. This hormone works to transform the size of your uterus so that it can accommodate your growing baby.
3. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
Only made during pregnancy, hCG levels spike during the first trimester. This hormone can be associated with vomiting and nausea during pregnancy, as women with severe morning sickness (Hyperemesis Gravidarum) tend to have higher levels of hCG than other pregnant women. Although some nausea is very common in early pregnancy and affects up to 80% of women, only around 1 to 3 in every 100 pregnant women experience severe morning sickness (HG).
4. Human Placental Lactogen (hPL)
This hormone is made in the placenta and nourishes the developing baby. It also stimulates the milk glands in your breasts for breastfeeding.
Oxytocin plays a key role in triggering contractions when labour starts. Prior to pregnancy, this hormone appears in low levels and then spikes towards the end of the pregnancy. Often called the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin helps us feel good, and is associated with feelings of bonding and motherhood.
Pregnancy Hormones and Mood Swings
It’s entirely normal for your moods to become a bit unpredictable during pregnancy, even if you haven’t been prone to mood swings before. One of the causes of mood swings in pregnancy is the change in your hormone levels. Significant changes in your hormone levels can affect your level of neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that regulate mood.
The good news is your mood swings should become more manageable once you’ve passed your first trimester, as your hormonal changes tend to settle down by this point. But if you still feel like your changes in mood are getting the better of you, don’t worry. Your body is going through a whole lot of changes, and even without the hormonal changes at work, being pregnant can still be an emotional rollercoaster, filled with excitement as well as anxiety.
Here are some tips to help you manage mood swings:
- It’s important to know that what you’re experiencing is normal and also that it’s not your fault, so don’t blame yourself. Blame the hormones!
- Stay calm and be patient with yourself – don’t try to be a superwoman and take on too much.
- Talk to your partner. Be honest and tell them how you’re feeling. They’ll be glad you’ve opened up and shared what you’re going through, and will want to find ways they can help.
- Try to get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a significant impact on mood and reduces our ability to control and process emotions, so get as much rest as you can.
- Have a change of scene – a trip to the cinema with your friend or partner can help you relax and reframe.
How your partner can support you during pregnancy
Your partner plays a really important role during your pregnancy, and studies show that having a supportive partner should lower your stress levels and help you keep a positive outlook. What’s more, it’s not always going to be smooth sailing during pregnancy – especially with your hormones putting you through your paces – so lean on your partner for support.
Here’s how your partner can support you throughout your pregnancy:
- Go with you to your doctor’s appointments.
- Help you in making decisions, e.g. prenatal tests and making a birth plan.
- Go to antenatal classes with you – this will also give Dads-to-be information and confidence about what to expect during your baby’s birth, and in the first few months as a new parent.
- Practical help, such as cooking and cleaning. Especially in the early stages of pregnancy, the smell of cooking can be unpleasant for mums-to-be, so partners should be on hand to help in the kitchen. They could also take over more of the household chores and carry heavy shopping.
- Offer emotional support by encouraging and reassuring you. Just being there and listening, so that you know you’re going through it together, can make all the difference.
- Spend quality time with each other.
- Join you in making healthy lifestyle changes. If you’re planning to make some changes to your diet during pregnancy such as eating more fruit and veg, why not do it together? Likewise, if you’re giving up smoking, you’re more likely to do it successfully if your partner stops too.
Some of the changes you’ll experience during pregnancy may feel scary or overwhelming, but your body really is incredible! Even though at times it might feel like your hormones are playing havoc with your mood, remember they have a very important job to do. Try to embrace the whole experience, take time for yourself, and ask for support when you need it.
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