Every craving, “mommy brain” moment, unsteady wobble, mountaintop high and abysmal low can be traced back to a gang of microscopic culprits—your hormones.
With the exception of producing a few hormones unique to pregnancy, your body shifts into mama-mode by increasing the levels of hormones already present in your system. And every pregnant woman—and anyone who lives with a pregnant woman—knows that this shift isn’t often easy.
Robert Greene, MD, FACOG, of CNY Fertility Center in Syracuse and Rochester, New York, and author of Perfect Hormone Balance for Pregnancy, likens hormones to ingredients in a complex soup. “The way a pregnant woman feels at any moment is the sum total of the way these ‘ingredients’ combine with one another,” Greene says.
While it’s true that all of your hormones are working in cahoots to grow a baby, certain hormones do trigger definite reactions in your body.
Study up on your guilty little hormone lineup so you can properly assign the blame.
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is responsible for your nausea and suppresses your immune system to reduce the chance that your body will reject the baby. This pregnancy-specific hormone indirectly makes your bladder more sensitive thanks to increased blood supply to your pelvis.
Estrogen improves blood flow to your skin (giving you that healthy glow) and amplifies your skin’s water content (helping to plump out wrinkles and laugh lines). Unfortunately, estrogen is also to blame for breast soreness and sensitivity and your heightened sense of smell. Estrogen’s extra- potent alias estradiol sharpens cognitive and motor abilities, boosts your mood, and may increase hair growth as well as prevent you from shedding it so quickly.
Progesterone works as a muscle relaxer, inhibiting the uterus from contracting while the fetus grows. Heartburn and acid reflux? Yep, that’s a bonus of progesterone’s muscle relaxing effect on your esophageal sphincter. Progesterone acts as a sedative and can cause some women to feel sad or depressed. This bad boy is also to blame for upping your core body temperature.
Relaxin loosens your ligaments and joints in preparation for baby’s birth. This loosening may make you a bit wobbly and reduce your already tenuous sense of balance thanks to your growing bump.
Seasoned moms may show sooner than a first-time mom since their muscles and ligaments are already stretched and will respond faster to the hormone relaxin.
Prolactin levels rise to about seven times their normal amount during pregnancy and trigger cravings and an increase in appetite. The upside? Prolactin can have a calming effect on your emotions, a benefit that any dad-to-be would gladly make a rainy night stir-fry run for.
Oxytocin and prolactin team up to intensify nurturing and bonding instincts and may even promote “nesting” instincts in your final trimester.
The roller coaster ride of emotions that accompanies fluctuating hormones may be expected, but Greene warns that severe symptoms shouldn’t be ignored.
“Symptoms matter!” Greene says. “I think the most surprising aspect of hormones and pregnancy is that most women don’t even question the possibility of a hormone imbalance.”
Although you may feel like a whiner (and nobody wants to be that girl), don’t hesitate to discuss your hormones with your healthcare provider and voice any concerns you may have about extreme mood swings or other troublesome pregnancy symptoms. Your severe nausea or intense cravings might be remedied through a few simple diet and lifestyle changes.
So break out the blame and write off yesterday’s nap, last night’s burned dinner and this morning’s meltdown as hormone-provoked. What a relief to have tiny scape- goats to blame when you leave the house unintentionally bra-less! The little miscreants may wreak havoc for nine months, but at least hormones present you with an oh-so-worth-it bundle o’ baby in the end.