Exactly How Your Hormone Levels Change During Pregnancy
The fluctuations your body experiences during pregnancy and postbirth are a wild ride. Most importantly, key hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and oxytocin (aka the cuddle hormone) will undergo shifts throughout this time, and that can impact your wellbeing too. Here's what you can expect your pregnancy hormone levels to be like.
Just remember to direct some of your nurturing urges to yourself too, says Jennifer Ashton, M.D., an ob-gyn and the author of the new book The Self-Care Solution. “If you’re not taking good care of yourself, it’s tougher to take good care of others.” (If your hormones are out-of-whack when you're *not* pregnant, use these tips to balance them out.)
Every month, this hormone rises after you ovulate, but “if you get pregnant, the level remains elevated,” says ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ambassador for Monistat. In fact, progesterone rises eight to 10 times during pregnancy to maintain the growth of the placenta, Dr. Adimoolam says.
The downside of these changing pregnancy hormone levels: “It actually suppresses the immune system,” she says. That means you have to be more vigilant about evading germs (that means disinfecting everything from your phone to your countertops). At birth, progesterone returns to normal.
Like progesterone, estrogen rises with ovulation and cranks up during pregnancy, but the boost is much larger, says endocrinologist Deena Adimoolam, M.D., a spokeswoman for the Endocrine Society. Estrogen is meant to create a “lush cushion and lining for the pregnancy,” says Dr. Dweck. Meanwhile, it causes blood vessels to dilate. “The increase in blood flow to the skin might lead to ‘the pregnancy glow,’” Dr. Adimoolam says.
The elevated estrogen also spurs hair to stay in its growth phase, so your tresses look full. After birth, estrogen drops to its pre-pregnancy level, and if you’re nursing—since lactation prevents ovulation—your estrogen remains low during those months. One apparently protective effect of this change in pregnancy hormone levels: Women who have had pregnancies (lasting over six months) and have breastfed have lower rates of ovarian and uterine cancer. (Related: What Is Estrogen Dominance—and How Can You Rebalance Your Hormones?)
There’s a gradual rise in oxytocin during pregnancy, a shift in pregnancy hormone levels that may be a reason for increased nesting instincts by moms-to-be. After birth, oxytocin goes into overdrive. It’s possible the baby’s pheromones stimulate oxytocin in the mother, but “we do know that oxytocin is high to promote breastfeeding, which in turn helps build bonding between mother and baby,” says Dr. Adimoolam.
Still, the jury is out on whether the hormone factors into why the amygdala—that area of the brain tied to emotions—grows after you become a mom. “More data is needed,” she says. (See: All the Unexpected Ways Pregnancy Changes Your Body)
Shape Magazine, April 2020 issue