Hormone Soup: The Role of Hormones in Pregnancy, Labor and Breastfeeding
It’s 3 a.m., your 8 months pregnant and your lying in bed awake, unable to sleep or get comfortable when all of the sudden you have the most intense craving for a Slushie. Something you would never indulge in, but you can’t shake it. You need a Slushie now! So of course you roll over, wake up your partner and insist that he go to 7-11 right now and get you that Slushie. Seems like a perfectly rational request, even at 3 a.m..
You’re at your favorite restaurant and you order the sandwich you have been craving all day and when it comes out you start crying. Borderline hysterics. But why? Because, the sandwich is on the wrong kind of bread, you specifically ordered whole wheat and this sandwich is on white. Oh the horror! The waitress immediately remedies the sandwich problem as you try to get your self together and at by the time your new sandwich on the proper bread arrives you are still to upset to eat it.
Both of these stories can be blamed on hormones, specifically progesterone and oestrogen. As nice as it may be to think about pregnancy without the crazy hormonal roller coaster you have to endure, they do play a vital roll in pregnancy, labor and breastfeeding.
Hormones seem to be a mysterious and misunderstood part of our physiology. Hormones are the chemical messengers in the body. In the first few weeks of pregnancy your progesterone levels skyrocket and continue to rise throughout pregnancy. They message the increased flow of blood to the uterus and the development of the placenta. The obvious benefits of the increase of progesterone is also sometimes accompanied by “morning sickness” and mood swings. “The exact cause of morning sickness is unknown but it is likely to be because of the rapid increase in: oestrogen and progesterone”(your hormones). Progesterone and oestrogen are the big players in the hormone world of pregnancy but are also accompanied by many other hormones that help grow a healthy baby.
At around 7 weeks a pregnant woman might start to feel aches in her lower back and/or pelvis, this is the physical side effects of the hormone relaxin. Relaxin is responsible for telling the muscles, joints and ligament to loosen and soften to make room for the growing baby and allow the hips to widen for baby to pass through in birth. Relaxin is what you can blame when you start to waddle, yes that’s right, no more walking for you, only waddling for the last couple weeks of your pregnancy. Relaxin also relaxes the arteries to accommodate the expanded blood volume in the body, but as this hormone soften and loosen everything, you may also experience the unpleasant side effect of acid reflux as the sphincter muscles are slacking on keeping the acid from coming up a one way street.
Prolactin production increases at the end of pregnancy, this in the mothering hormone, responsible for the nesting effect it has on women. Prolactin is the hormone that tells the body to start milk production. Oxytocin, the love hormone also increases at this time. Oxytocin is the hormone that starts labor by telling the uterus to contract. Oxytocin is accompanied by feelings of calmness and love. This wonderful hormone is necessary for mother to bond with baby and feel connected to her partner during labor. As labor begins to intensify the body creates more pain relieving beta-endorphins, these create a sometime euphoric feeling along with the stress relieving, that helps keep mother laborland. After baby is born oxytocin continues to help mom and baby. Oxytocin continues to send messages to contract the uterus until it is back to it’s original size. As prolactin stimulates the production of milk, oxytocin delivers the milk to the nipple. The oxytocin present at breastfeeding helps the mother and baby to continue to bond and fall in love with each other.
Now here you are, holding your sweet little baby, having been on a physical and chemical rollercoaster for the past nine months. You couldn’t be more happy, in love and exhausted. The side effect of the hormonal fireworks during labor have a bit of a hormone hangover, which can only be described as hormone soup. You are happy and crying. You are grateful and sad. You are hopeful and scared. You don’t know how you are feeling but tired, sore and amazingly in love. Thanks to hormones you have fit the bill of that typical crazy pregnant woman, but it was all worth it because now you have a beautiful, healthy baby!
Written by Whitney Roginski, a doula and yoga teacher located in Glenwood Springs, Co. Whitney is dedicated to empowering all families on their journey through pregnancy, labor and into parenthood.
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