Don’t Worry, it Really is Just Postpartum Hormones

Many women expect childbirth to be one of the happiest and most magical times of their lives, and it usually is for the first few days; however, for some women, after getting home from the hospital, the “baby blues”, fatigue, irritability, and just feeling kind of grouchy may start. Don’t worry. If you are feeling this way, you are not alone and this is not uncommon.

Many women suffer from a hormone imbalance following childbirth that can cause symptoms such as mood swings, mild depression, irritability, and in severe cases, postpartum depression. For most women, the hormone levels will even out on their own and the symptoms are manageable with a good support system and rest. There are also prescriptions available that can help with hormonal issues and natural remedies that many women have explored.

Although it may seem like a cop out to blame our moods and emotions on hormones, when it comes to childbirth and how women feel postpartum, hormones are 100% of the reason for the symptoms.

The Hormones

Progesterone postpartum hormoneProgesterone is produced by the placenta during pregnancy at much higher rates than our bodies normally produce when we are not pregnant. This hormone elevates your mood, helps your ligaments relax, and causes internal structures (like the ureters) to enlarge, and also stretching the uterus to fit the baby. 10 weeks into pregnancy, the placenta takes over production of progesterone from the ovaries. When we deliver the placenta during childbirth we lose all the progesterone our body was producing all at once. The ovaries will not begin producing progesterone again until your menstrual cycle begins again. This creates a huge hormonal imbalance.

Estrogen is produced more during pregnancy than you will produce during the rest of your lifetime. Estrogen during pregnancy allows for the uterus and placenta to improve vascularization, get nutrients to the baby, help the baby develop and mature. This rapid increase in estrogen production is what causes morning sickness during your first trimester and starts your milk production in the third trimester. During delivery, the excess levels of estrogen in our bodies are still there even though the baby is no longer there. We stop producing as much, but it can take a few weeks for the estrogen levels to get back to normal, especially when the progesterone levels are out of whack as well.

Relaxin is the hormone that helps you to deliver your baby. This hormone relaxes the place where the pubic bones come together and softens the ligaments in your hipbones to prepare for child birth. Relaxin also softens and lengthens the cervix and inhibits the contractions of the uterus to determine the timing of delivery. After child birth, it can take up to 5 months for relaxin to leave the body, leaving you more susceptible to strains, sprains, and fractures in the hips.

Prolactin causes milk production and also is an appetite stimulant. Lucky for us it is also a metabolism booster. As long as you are nursing, this hormone will stay in your system and keep being produced. Your appetite will increase a little bit due to needing to increase calories to produce milk for nursing, but your metabolism will skyrocket helping you to lose weight. Increased prolactin levels also contribute to greater sexual satisfaction and relaxation.

Hormones and Depression

postpartum depressionOne of the most common symptoms and illnesses associated with the hormonal changes that women face postpartum is depression. Depression can be described as feelings of sadness, feeling down, miserable, irritable, overly fatigued, and having bouts of anxiety and gloom. Most of us have at periods of situational depression in our lives, but depression due to hormones can be somewhat more difficult to overcome because the changes are out of our control.

Depression and Anxiety is the number one complication of childbirth but is often times not recognized or treated right away because of normal changes that come along with having a newborn at home such as lack of sleep, dietary changes, stronger emotional reactions, problems getting to sleep or staying asleep, changes in weight, etc. There are certain factors that can increase your risk for depression postpartum:

  • Family history of depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Lack of support system
  • Previous history of anxiety or depression
  • Previous pregnancy complications
  • Marital or financial problems
  • Young or old age
  • Simultaneous health problems

Baby Blues Vs. Post-Partum Depression

You may have heard of both terms, the baby blues and Post-Partum Depression before. Almost every new mom suffers from some degree of the baby blues in the days immediately following the birth of the baby. New moms can feel sudden mood swings, suddenly start crying, loose their appetite, have trouble sleeping and feel overly irritated or fatigued, restless or anxious—especially about the infant. New moms can also feel lonely and sometimes withdraw from friends and family. These symptoms are usually not severe however and generally last for only a few days to a couple of weeks. Baby blue is caused by the dramatic hormone fluctuation that happens immediately following birth along with the physical drain that is placed on new moms following child birth and the demanding schedule of newborns.

Here are some ways to help cope with symptoms of the baby blues:

  • Sleep when the baby sleeps
  • Lean on your friends and family
  • Join new mom support groups
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • Take time out for you
  • Don’t make any major life changes

Post-Partum Depression may not show up right away, in fact, symptoms of Post-Partum Depression can show up anytime within the first year following child birth and can have a much more severe impact on your ability to function than the baby blues. This type of depression can cause extreme sadness, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts, thoughts of harming others, and guilt. You may have panic attacks, often feel overwhelmed and worry constantly. You may have trouble taking care of yourself or others at times. Post-Partum depression needs to be treated by a doctor. If any of the following symptoms last more than two weeks, contact your doctor immediately.

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Crying a lot
  • Having no energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Trouble eating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Loss of interest in social activities and hobbies
  • Withdraws from family and friends
  • Frequent headaches, chest pains, or heart palpitations
  • Feeling afraid or paranoid
  • Having no interest in the baby

Treatment for Depression and Hormonal Imbalance

postpartum hormones effectsThere are two treatments for depression. Talk therapy and medication. If your depression is related to a hormonal imbalance your doctor may need to prescribe you an anti-depressant to help you combat the symptoms of depression until your body recovers from child birth. Not all medications are safe to take while breastfeeding however so make sure that you and your doctor talk about all options and risks associated with your treatment plan.

There are also some things you can do at home to help to rebalance your hormone levels and get to feeling back to normal:

  1. Stay away from complex carbs and dairy
  2. Increase fiber
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Avoid polyunsaturated fats
  5. Do Yoga
  6. Try Acupuncture
  7. Vitamin D, A and Magnesium supplements
  8. Placenta Encapsulation
  9. Avoid Soy
  10. No Caffeine or Alcohol

Before trying anything at home, always make sure to check with your doctor and medical care team. There are many restrictions to what you may be able to do physically immediately following childbirth. Many of these practices such as Acupuncture and placenta encapsulation need to be performed under the supervision of a clinical specialist or licensed practitioner and should be thoroughly researched before trying out.

Hormonal changes can be frustrating for the entire family, but your support system should understand that for most women these hormonal fluctuations are just temporary and symptoms will be mild. If you feel as though your symptoms are becoming more severe, don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends, family and medical provider for guidance and help. When hormonal changes start causing problems such as Postpartum depression, the affects can be strenuous on the entire family unit, but medical help for this super common postpartum complication can get you feeling back to your normal self quickly.