Learn all about pregnancy hormones to better understand the physical and emotional changes you may go through during pregnancy.
RELATED: 11 Common Early Pregnancy Symptoms
In this article:
- What Are Pregnancy Hormones?
- What Does HCG Do and What Are Its Side Effects?
- What Does Progesterone Do and What Are Its Side Effects?
- What Does Estrogen Do and What Are Its Side Effects?
- What Role Does the Other Pregnancy Hormones Play in Your Pregnancy?
- Why Are You So Emotional During Your Pregnancy?
- How Can You Cope with the Physical Effects of Pregnancy Hormones?
- How Can You Cope with the Emotional Effects of Pregnancy Hormones?
Everything You Need to Know to Ride Out the Hormonal Roller Coaster of Pregnancy
1. What Are Pregnancy Hormones?
Hormones and pregnancy go hand in hand. Pregnancy hormones are hormones that drastically increase during your pregnancy. These hormones help transform your body to successfully carry, grow, and deliver a baby.
The three main pregnancy hormones are:
- Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) – A hormone made by the placenta that maintains certain structures needed for pregnancy.
- Progesterone – A hormone that helps prepare the uterus for pregnancy.
- Estrogen – A hormone that assists in fetal development and helps the body keep up with the demands of pregnancy.
Other hormones that play a role in pregnancy are:
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) – A hormone that prepares eggs for ovulation.
- Luteinizing hormone (LH) – A hormone that triggers ovulation.
- Oxytocin – A hormone that prepares the body for labor and delivery.
- Prolactin – A hormone that aids in lactation.
- Relaxin – A hormone that prepares the body for delivery.
- Human placental lactogen (HPL) -A hormone that aids in the initial phases of breastfeeding.
Each of these hormones contributes to a healthy and successful pregnancy.
2. What Does HCG Do and What Are Its Side Effects?
Remember when you first took that pregnancy test and you saw those two lines that changed your life forever? Well, HCG was the hormone responsible for that positive result.
HCG is a hormone released by the developing placenta within a few days of fertilization. Here’s what HCG does to help your pregnancy along:
- Informs the body that there’s a baby growing in the womb and it needs to start building a home for it
- Signals the body to stop ovulating
- Triggers the corpus luteum to produce more estrogen and progesterone
What is the corpus luteum? A corpus luteum acts as kind of a temporary endocrine system formed in the ovary whenever it releases an egg during ovulation. It releases estrogen and progesterone during ovulation to prepare the uterus for implantation.
HCG level doubles every two days during the first 10 weeks of your pregnancy before plateauing. It should start to decline as you enter into the second trimester.
Some doctors believe this dramatic increase in HCG levels is what causes morning sickness during the first trimester. That’s why women tend to experience the worst of morning sickness during the first few months of their pregnancies.
3. What Does Progesterone Do and What Are Its Side Effects?
— Erza Xcarlet (@Xcarlet7) March 7, 2019
Progesterone is a hormone released by the corpus luteum for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. After that, the placenta takes over and produces progesterone.
Progesterone helps the pregnancy along by:
- relaxing the muscles of the uterus/womb to help it accommodate a full-term baby
- keeping the uterine lining thick and healthy
- keeping the body from attacking the new and unfamiliar DNA (your baby)
- stimulates the growth of breast tissues
Unfortunately, the dramatic increase in progesterone may have some uncomfortable side effects, such as:
- low blood pressure
- unwanted hair growth
- pubic bone and hip pain
- swollen and bleeding gums
The exponential increase of progesterone is usually limited to the first trimester and stabilizes as you begin the second trimester.
4. What Does Estrogen Do and What Are Its Side Effects?
— Maternova (@maternova) May 26, 2015
Estrogen is also released by the corpus luteum for the first few weeks before the placenta starts to produce it. It plays a vital role in pregnancy and fetal development by:
- Signalling the body to rebuild the uterine lining at the end of menstrual cycles to prepare it for implantation
- Maintaining the uterine lining when implantation is successful
- Increasing blood circulation throughout the pregnancy
- Signalling the body to activate other pregnancy hormones
- Regulating other pregnancy hormones
- Triggering the development of some of your baby’s organs and limbs
- Developing your baby’s adrenal gland and stimulating it so that it begins producing hormones
- Helping your uterus respond to oxytocin
- Promoting the growth of breasts to prepare for lactation
The estrogen produced from just one pregnancy is more than the estrogen produced over an entire lifetime of a woman who has never been pregnant. That’s a lot of estrogen in nine months!
Just like progesterone, the dramatic spike in estrogen may lead to a few unwelcome symptoms. These include:
- Sinus congestion and stuffy nose
- Skin rashes and itchiness
- Appetite increase
- Changes in skin pigmentation or skin discoloration (ex: darkening of areola, nipples, or a visible vertical line on the abdomen)
- Darkening of your cheeks, nose, and forehead (also known as “mask of pregnancy” or melasma)
- Spider veins
- Skin may become more sensitive to sunlight (also known as photosensitivity)
On the bright side, a common side effect of higher estrogen levels that many women do welcome is the coveted “pregnancy glow.” This glow or flushness is probably due to the increased blood circulation.
5. What Role Does the Other Pregnancy Hormones Play in Your Pregnancy?
Apart from three main pregnancy hormones, these are other hormones that are helpful during the pre-pregnancy phase, delivery phase, and breastfeeding phase.
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is an essential hormone for ovulation. It stimulates the growth of follicles which houses the eggs released during ovulation.
- Luteinizing hormone (LH) is the hormone that ruptures the follicles and causes a mature egg to be released during ovulation.
- Oxytocin is vital during labor and delivery because it promotes uterine contractions and stretches the cervix.
- Relaxin relaxes the pelvic bone’s joints and ligaments, uterine muscle, and cervix to prepare for delivery.
- Human placental lactogen (HPL) allows your breasts to make colostrum before producing true milk. It also changes your metabolism so that a new mom’s body circulates more fat and sugar to make sure there are enough nutrients for the baby.
- Prolactin is a hormone that makes your breasts increase in size in preparation for lactation. It’s also said to promote mothering instincts and has a tranquilizing effect on mothers who are nursing.
- Oxytocin helps stimulate the let-down reflex that allows the breast to push out milk.
6. Why Are You So Emotional During Your Pregnancy?
While it may be tempting to blame your moodiness, irritability, or over-sensitivity on your raging pregnancy hormones, it’s important to remember that there are many different factors that can have an impact on your emotional state.
For some women, the dramatic increase in estrogen may make them moodier and more sensitive. Estrogen can actually increase the levels of serotonin in your body.
What is serotonin? It is sometimes called the “happy chemical.” It is a hormone that regulates mood.
Many women share that they find themselves crying over things that wouldn’t normally make them cry. If hormones are to blame, then these symptoms should go away once the three main pregnancy hormones begin to stabilize during the second trimester.
Don’t forget that pregnancies can also be a challenging and stressful time for you. You’re tired and your body is going through so many changes. All of this can also contribute to your emotional state.
7. How Can You Cope with the Physical Effects of Pregnancy Hormones?
Here are some things you can do to cope with the physical effects of pregnancy hormones:
- Morning sickness/nausea – Eat several small meals, stay hydrated, and identify and avoid food aversions.
- Breast tenderness – Use a bra with good cup and strap support and consider using a bra at night.
- Sinus problems – Moisturize your nose with petroleum jelly to avoid chafing.
- Fatigue – Ask for help with chores, take naps, go to bed early, and stay away from caffeine.
- Dizziness – Stay hydrated and stand up slowly.
- Skin discoloration and sensitivity – Moisturize regularly, apply sunscreen every day, and wear clothes that protect you from the sun.
Remember that most of the physical side effects of pregnancy hormones peak during the first trimester. Most mamas get their mojo back when they enter the second trimester, so don’t lose hope!
8. How Can You Cope with the Emotional Effects of Pregnancy Hormones?
Here are some things you can do to cope with the emotional effects of pregnancy hormones:
- Indulge in a little self-care. Think of the things that will make you happy and go for it!
- Don’t skimp on sleep. A full night’s rest can do amazing things for your emotional state.
- Eat healthily. Skip the fast food and opt for healthy, homemade meals.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Lean on your partner and friends for support and some TLC.
A few instances of moodiness or crying fits are expected during any pregnancy. If it starts to feel like your mood swings are beyond your control or if it lasts for over two weeks without any improvement, make an appointment with your doctor.
Find out more about the hormones responsible for many changes in the body during pregnancy in this video from Health Tips:
Pregnancy can seem overwhelming, especially during the first trimester when your hormones are supposed to be all over the place. Don’t forget that each pregnancy experience is unique. While some mama’s can be sensitive to the hormonal changes during pregnancy, others won’t even notice it.
Hopefully, you’re one of those lucky mamas! But even if you’re not, don’t let it get you down — the second trimester is just around the corner. In the meantime, try thinking of these pesky pregnancy hormone side-effects as a small price to pay for a beautiful and healthy baby!
Have you experienced any uncomfortable symptoms associated with pregnancy hormones? What did you do to cope with it? Let us know in the comments section.