Is your pregnancy glow accompanied by severe mood swings? Do your feet swell abnormally? Are your breasts getting larger and more sensitive? These are some common symptoms that indicate hormonal imbalance during pregnancy. Though natural, these symptoms can be distressing. We are going to take a look at hormone imbalance that occurs during pregnancy. Also, you will learn the ways to tame the symptoms so that you can have a fabulous pregnancy. In fact, women are always going through a cycle of hormonal changes. Be it during the monthly periods or a special period called pregnancy. No doubt, pregnancy is good news for you as well as your family members. However, it can be physically and emotionally taxing. With all the hormones going through a swing, you can have various unpleasant or sometimes serious symptoms.
Why Hormone Levels Fluctuate During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a major physiological event during the course of a woman’s life. It is during the pregnancy that key hormones estrogen and progesterone reach their peaks. Interestingly, estrogen production during one pregnancy is higher than the entire lifetime production when a woman is not pregnant. These hormones enable your body to nourish the baby in the womb and prepare you for the future events like breastfeeding.
Know the Role of Estrogen
Estrogen levels rise gradually throughout the pregnancy and peak during the third trimester. In the first trimester, nausea may result due to the estrogen surge. While in the second trimester, the hormone prepares your breasts for secreting milk. Estrogen does this by two ways. First, it stimulates the growth of duct cells in the breasts. Next, it enhances the production of the hormone prolactin. Prolactin is key to breast milk production. In addition, estrogen:
- Increases blood flow to the uterus and placenta.
- Provides a better nutritional support for the developing baby.
- Helps in the development of the baby’s vital organs like liver, kidneys, and lungs.
- Regulates the secretion of other pregnancy hormones.
- Works with another hormone oxytocin to release prostaglandins. Prostaglandins relax the cervix (the opening of the uterus) and thus make it easier for the baby to come out during the delivery.
- May also regulate the secretion of another key pregnancy hormone progesterone.
Some animal studies suggest estrogen may act as a “trigger” in releasing the stress hormone cortisol in the developing baby.
What High Progesterone Levels Do to Your Body?
Similar to estrogen, progesterone also plays a major role in preparing you for the pregnancy. Most importantly, progesterone helps your womb grow in size so that it can accommodate the baby. Other notable functions of progesterone during pregnancy are:
- Preventing the mother’s immune cells from attacking the baby. It suppresses the maternal immune functions. Thus, it blocks the release of the antibodies directed against the cells of the fetus.
- Maintaining the contractions of the uterus. An overactivated uterus can expel the baby quite ahead of the natural time of delivery. So, it is very important that the uterine remains “silent” during the pregnancy.
- Stimulating the growth of the cells in the breasts that produce milk.
- Increasing the size of the ureters, the ducts that link kidneys to the bladder.
- Relaxing the joints and ligaments.
What are the Undesirable Effects of Hormone Imbalance during Pregnancy?
No doubt, the high levels of estrogen and progesterone are beneficial for you and your baby. Nonetheless, they may also cause a range of symptoms. Often, the symptoms can be severe enough to make you seek a professional help. You may experience one or more of the following symptoms during pregnancy.
- Enlarged and tender breasts.
- Nausea often with vomiting.
- Frequent bathroom visits.
- Extreme tiredness.
- Unusual mood swings. The tendency to get extra emotional or even cry without a
- Digestive problems like constipation and bloating.
- Changes in your taste or odor.
Depression during Pregnancy: Why You Should Not Miss It
According to the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Human and Health Services, depression affects about 13% of pregnant women. While mild forms of depression may not be “too” problematic, a severe depression can have detrimental effects on your baby too. Of many causes, depression during pregnancy, in most, cases, results due to hormone imbalance. Thus, you should check for the symptoms of depression and seek a medical help if they persist for more than two weeks. Depression tends to run in families. So, take an extra care if you have a family history.
Natural Approaches to Relieve Hormone Imbalance during Pregnancy?
To cope with the problems of hormone imbalance during pregnancy, you may consider using the following measures.
- Avoid exposure to harmful chemicals. Getting in contact with a class of chemicals called xenoestrogens can cause hormone imbalance. Xenoestrogens mimic the actions of estrogen. Some examples include BPA (bisphenol A), phthalates and PCB (Polychlorinated biphenyl). Many such chemicals now are banned in the US. Nonetheless, there are frequent reports of contamination in the food, water, school and other sites. These harmful chemicals may be present in your cosmetics, plastics jars, paints, and even some medical devices. Thus, you should stick to the natural and organic products at least during the pregnancy. Studies suggest exposure to BPA during pregnancy can also affect your child’s health during the early ages.
- Watch what you eat. Pregnancy demands more energy to conduct the routine physiological functions. Therefore, think of taking 200 to 300 extra calories from healthy sources. For example, lean meat products, low-fat milk products, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure you get enough of the essential vitamins and minerals like folic acid, vitamin, calcium, and iron. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 200 mg Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA is an omega-3-fatty acid, a heart-healthy fat which also has anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil, coconut oil, chia seeds, flax seeds and fish oils are rich sources of omega-3-fatty acids. Also, you may take a supplement after consulting your doctor.
- Manage your stress. We know this is not as easy as said. But making simple lifestyle tweaks and making subtle changes in your daily habits can make a huge difference. You may join a yoga class or meditate to calm down the stressed mind. One simple way to reduce stress is to practice deep breathing exercise for at least 10 minutes every day. Since breathing exercises have little to do with strenuous movements, they are safe for the pregnant women. In addition to working as a stress buster, these measures can also help to lift your mood.
- Enjoy quality sleep. When we talk about sleep, two factors determine whether you have a sleep problem. They are- sleep quality and duration of sleep. Having a quality sleep keeps your energy levels up the next day. In addition, it also makes you feel good and refreshed. There is a known link between sleep and production of the stress hormone cortisol. Meaning, depriving yourself of sleep can stimulate the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol. Thus, follow a proper sleep hygiene and talk to your doctor if you think you have developed a sleep problem.
- Avoid alcohol and limit your caffeine intake. Drinking while pregnant not only disrupts the hormone balance but may also cause Fetal alcohol syndrome. Moreover, it has also been associated with premature delivery and low birth weight. However, you may take caffeine in moderation to keep yourself alert. Experts say two 5-ounce cups of coffee, three 5-ounce cups of tea, or two 12-ounce glasses of caffeinated soda are OK.
- Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. “More than just baby blues: How postpartum depression arises and how it could be prevented.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2010.
- Kumar, Pratap., et al. “Hormones in pregnancy” Nigerian Medical Journal 2012 Oct-Dec; 53(4): 179–183.
- Czyzyk, A., et al. “The role of progesterone therapy in early pregnancy: from physiological role to therapeutic utility.” Gynecological Endocrinology 2017 Jun;33(6):421-424.
- University of Maryland at Baltimore. “Estrogen Maintains Pregnancy, Triggers Fetal Maturation.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 March 1997.
- Casas, M., et al. “Exposure to bisphenol A during pregnancy and child neuropsychological development in the INMA-Sabadell cohort.” Environmental Research 2015 Oct;142:671-9.