Pregnancy often comes with a lot of challenges — from emotions that take you on a rollercoaster ride to stomach problems that will leave you more than queasy. The culprit? Pregnancy hormones. MH explains just what’s going on.
WORDS CHERYLENE RENÉE
Congratulations, you’re pregnant! The joy of hosting a brand new, precious life within you is such an incredible feeling. But what is happening inside your body now that you’re expecting? You may experience wave upon wave of different emotions, your entire worldview may even change as a result of the life growing inside you, and you suddenly find yourself munching on foods that you hated before! The bodies of pregnant women go through phenomenal changes, and it’s all a result of shifting hormone levels. Here are the six key hormones which will transform your body within the next nine months.
Pregnancy is the time when a woman’s oestrogen level skyrockets, producing more oestrogen in one single pregnancy as compared to the rest of her life. This is the hormone that is responsible for that legendary ‘glow’ that all pregnant women dream of having. On the flip side, this is also the hormone responsible for all the unsightly varicose veins, gut-wrenching nausea, and unwanted changes in your skin such as pimples, stretch marks, and dark spots. This is also the hormone you can blame for your late-night food cravings (we’ve all been there!) Despite the side effects, oestrogen is an essential hormone during pregnancy, and performs key roles in developing your body for new life — it enlarges the milk ducts, preparing your breasts for milk production; it improves blood flow to the uterus and placenta; and the growth of your little one’s adrenal gland. Your oestrogen levels rise incrementally during the first trimester, plateaus for a bit, and then peaks right before you are about to give birth.
Oestrogen and progesterone make up the “big two” of pregnancy hormones. While oestrogen works incredibly hard to actively create and develop your body for pregnancy, progesterone, on the other hand, has a tranquillizing and calming effect. It helps to keep your stress and anxiety levels down and helps you sleep better.
Progesterone also serves to compose your uterine muscles, creating a safe zone for the fertilised egg to implant on the walls of your womb.
Progesterone levels will rise steadily throughout the course of your pregnancy, helping to strengthen the inner layers of the uterus to support your growing baby.
3. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG)
Did you know that pregnancy tests use the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) hormone as a measure of pregnancy, as it is one of the earliest signs of conception? HCG is largely present from the moment of implantation and up till the first 10 weeks of your pregnancy, stimulating your body and preparing it for your growing foetus. It signals your ovaries to stop maturing eggs every month and is also the reason behind having no menstruation for the next nine months. The downside, however, is that HCG is theorised to be the root cause of your dreaded morning sickness, as higher levels of HCG may give rise to increased feelings of nausea and intense vomiting.
Dubbed the ‘feel-good hormone’ and even the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin gets a boost in the weeks before labour. This causes expecting mums to experience mild sensations of euphoria and bursts of lovey-dovey feelings, and sometimes even results in ‘nesting’ behaviour (where we wash, clean, bake, and cook in the efforts to create a warm love-nest). During the period of labour itself, your brain sees a huge upsurge in oxytocin levels.
When the labour finally ends and you hold your newborn for the
first time, your baby’s pheromones spark the release of even
more oxytocin — resulting in what is termed ‘baby lust’, and the start
of your beautiful mother-baby bond.
Your body also experiences a rise in oxytocin whenever you breastfeed and the nipples are stimulated. Outside of pregnancy, oxytocin helps us to bond with friends and significant others and is released during sex. Studies have shown that oxytocin has a great impact on our emotional state of being and social behaviour, helping us to trust others and increase romantic attachment.
Women see a surge of up to 10 times more relaxin in their bodies when they are pregnant. As its name suggests, relaxin is in charge of loosening up your ever-changing body — more specifically, it helps to relax your uterine muscle and the ligaments in your pelvic bones, so as to create more room for your growing baby, and to prepare your body for impending childbirth. This hormone may also loosen up your blood vessels as well, to handle the increased blood volume that comes with pregnancy. On the flip side, a rising relaxin level is also the culprit for unpleasant side effects like heartburn — this occurs when the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle (responsible for preventing stomach acid from climbing up your oesophagus) is a little too relaxed.
Prolactin levels in your body are actually inversely correlated to whether or not you get pregnant in the first place. High levels of prolactin inhibit pregnancy, while low levels result in a much higher fertility rate. When you are successfully pregnant, however, prolactin increases ten, or even twentyfold — but there is no cause for worry, as prolactin serves a different purpose at this stage. Like progesterone, this hormone also has a tranquillizing effect on your mind and body. When it’s closer to your due date and after your delivery, prolactin then helps to work up your breast tissues for milk production.