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Mother & Baby Magazine
Hormones are the bane of every pregnant woman’s life – just when you think you’ve got on top of morning sickness, you start to get hot flushes and cry about anything and everything. It may all be part and parcel of having a bump, but it’s driving you (and your partner) mad!
We all moan about them, but what exactly are hormones? Since we blame everything, from grumpiness to chocolate cravings, on them, we really ought to know a bit more about the enemy…
Hormones explainedHormones are chemical substances that are formed in one part of the body and are carried, via the bloodstream, to another area, to stimulate it into action. They are absolutely vital in all aspects of pregnancy. For example, human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG – formed in the pituitary gland) stimulates your ovaries to produce more progesterone, which stops your periods. Progesterone (formed in your ovaries and, later on in pregnancy, in your placenta) affects every aspect of pregnancy, including relaxing the muscles in your womb to prevent contractions that could otherwise lead to miscarriage. Oestrogen, (also normally formed in the ovaries, but later on in the placenta) strengthens and prepares your womb for the implantation of the fertilised egg, prepares your breasts and encourages milk production.
Other hormones that play an important role in your pregnancy include:• Oxytocin – triggers contractions in labour, as well as Braxton Hicks, and stimulates your breasts’ milk glands.• Endorphins – ‘happy hormones’ that help us deal with stress and pain.• Relaxin – softens ligaments and tissues to increase flexibility in your lower back and pelvic joints, in preparation for birth.
With hormone upheaval also causing such unpleasant side effects as nausea and vomiting, you may be desperate to know if there’s anything to help balance out the blighters. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do, except to find coping mechanisms, such as eating little and often to regulate your blood sugar levels and taking part in regular exercise to help with stress and anxiety. Alternative remedies may provide some relief, too, such as homeopathy, aromatherapy and acupuncture, but it’s vital that you seek professional help before using any of these.
Mother & Baby midwife Helen O’Dell says, ‘Try to accept that this is nature’s way of coping with rapid changes. Also, remember that pregnancy is only for nine months, most of the symptoms don't last this long and that you’ll have a lovely baby at the end!’
Up and down
Cry-baby Let’s face it, it can be rather embarrassing bursting into tears when you see the Andrex puppy ad. ‘Crying is a side effect of the extra oestrogen your body’s producing, but it also happens because we can be a little uptight when we’re pregnant,’ explains Helen. ‘There are so many changes happening in your body – it’s no wonder that you can get a little emotionally charged.’
Everyone has their bad moments, but be aware if they start to dominate your life, Helen warns. ‘Some women suffer from antenatal depression, particularly if they’ve had trouble conceiving or have had previous problematic pregnancies. If your mood doesn’t lift in a day or two, and you feel as if you’re living under a black cloud, talk to your midwife or GP in case it’s something more than a one-off hormone attack.’
Grumpy-bumIf you’re not getting teary-eyed over everything, you’re probably snapping at your partner for leaving the loo seat up or not noticing how beautifully you ironed his undies. Again, high levels of oestrogen can take most of the credit, but it’s within your power to smooth out the situation, says Helen.
‘Snapping is perfectly common and acceptable during pregnancy but, to help your partner, warn him if you’re feeling extra tense and frustrated, and explain you don’t mean to fly off the handle. An apology when it happens would be nice too!’
Luckily, Mother Nature lends you a hand in the form of endorphins, our natural ‘happy hormones’, which kick in big time during pregnancy to help you cope with pain and stress, particularly during birth. Endorphins are also produced during exercise, so you can help keep your levels topped up with gentle activities such as yoga, swimming or pilates.
Happy bunny Bizarrely, even though the high levels of oestrogen, in particular, can cause tears and irritability, they, along with progesterone, can also cause great happiness. These hormones are responsible for the huge range and intensity of emotions during pregnancy, explaining why you’re a sobbing wreck one minute and a happy bunny the next!
The good news is that you won’t remain Oscar the Grouch throughout the full nine months and, chances are, the low periods will be outweighed by feeling wonderfully optimistic and excited. ‘This is the time when people comment on how good you look, which is often due to the sheer happiness many pregnant women feel,’ says Helen.
Body of evidence
Glowing skin Everyone knows about the ‘pregnancy glow’, when your skin looks radiant and healthy. This often kicks in during your second trimester, when erratic hormone levels have settled and high levels of oestrogen are coursing through your body. ‘Also, the fact that you’re happy to be pregnant and looking forward to meeting your new baby contributes to you looking so well and generally contented,’ says Helen.
Spot the pregnant woman…Unfortunately, many mums aren’t so lucky with their complexion during pregnancy, often complaining of acne on their face or backs. This is often caused by high levels of progesterone, which causes your glands to increase their secretions, making the skin oily and more prone to spots.
‘Try different preparations to see what helps,’ suggests Helen. ‘Tea tree oil or Clearasil can help even out problem skin and they’re both safe to use during pregnancy.’ It goes without saying that you should also keep your skin as clean as possible and, if acne is troublesome on your back, opt for clothes made of natural fibres as they’re more breathable than man-made materials. The good news is that, after the first trimester, progesterone is made in the placenta, not the ovaries, so the levels balance out more and acne tends to become less of a problem.
Some women don’t get acne, but do develop dark patches on their skin called ‘chloasma’ or ‘melasma’. These can appear anywhere on your body (the most well-known place is the vertical line running from your belly button down, called the ‘linea nigra’) and it’s estimated that around 70% of pregnant women are affected, so it’s fairly common. High levels of melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) are responsible for this, and also make your nipples darker in the weeks leading up to birth.
Marvellous mane Many women love their hair during pregnancy, saying it looks thicker and glossier. This is because high levels of progesterone cause the hair follicles to go into a resting phase, which reduces the amount of hair that ends up in your plughole when you wash it. It does this by reducing the levels of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is usually responsible for hair loss.
Be warned though, that three months after the birth, as progesterone levels drop again, your old hair will start falling out again to make way for new ones. This may look alarming, but it’s actually a good sign that your body is producing new hair, although it might be less shiny in appearance. Postpartum hair loss affects around 50% of women and lasts for up to six months.
Pass my hatWho said that about luscious locks? While pregnancy makes most women’s hair look healthier, unfortunately this is not the case for a few poor souls. Hair loss, while unusual, does happen, although not much is know about why. Theories claim that, oddly, high progesterone levels are also to blame for this, making hair drier and more likely to split and break, especially later on in pregnancy. Since it breaks nearer the roots, it looks like hair loss, but actually isn’t.
It’s worth speaking to your midwife or GP about this in case dietary or medical problems are to blame, but in most cases, some self-help measures can be taken, including using a mild shampoo, not over-brushing your hair, seeing a good hairdresser regularly and avoiding the use of harsh chemicals, such as those found in perms and colourants, without guidance from a professional.
On top of the toilet One of your body’s most obvious and unpleasant signs of pregnancy is morning sickness. Many women feel nauseous or actually are sick during the first trimester, probably thanks to sky-high hCG hormone levels. After 12 to 14 weeks, things gradually get better, although a few unfortunate mums-to-be might feel sick throughout their entire pregnancy.
However, there are ways to alleviate the nausea. ‘You could try the acupressure wristbands that are on sale in chemists or, alternatively, ginger in any form might help,’ says Helen. ‘Some alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and reflexology, also have good results on morning sickness.’
While some sickness is unfortunately to be expected, if things are really bad, you should see your doctor or midwife immediately in case you’re suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, which means, literally, ‘excessive vomiting in pregnancy’. It’s most common in early pregnancy and needs medical attention, as you’re at risk of dehydration.
On top of the world If you’re one of the lucky ones whose morning sickness subsides after the first trimester, you may suddenly experience an incredible surge of energy, as your hCG levels settle down. Some women feel amazing during this time and often say they have more energy than ever! This is the best time to start getting any minor DIY jobs out of the way in preparation for your baby’s arrival – by the third trimester, when you’re at your heaviest, you might not feel so lively. Digestive disasterAsk any pregnant women who her best friend is and chances are indigestion tablets might come top of the poll. Heartburn can be a major problem during pregnancy as the hormone progesterone wreaks havoc on many bodily functions, relaxing intestinal and stomach muscles, sometimes with audible and embarrassing results!
‘Progesterone can slow down the digestive tract, leading to both heartburn and constipation. The key to keeping on top of things is to drink lots of fluids and eat a well-balanced diet,’ says Helen. ‘If constipation is problematic, talk to your midwife or GP, as they may be able to recommend a good remedy. It’s important to keep on top of this problem to try to reduce the chances of getting haemorrhoids and varicose veins.’
Foxy ladyIncreased levels of both progesterone and oestrogen can make women feel incredibly sexy, cranking up your libido and making your sex life better than ever! These hormones increase your vaginal lubrication, sensitivity in the breasts and nipples and blood flow to your pelvic area.‘Pregnancy can be a time when many couple’s sex life improves immensely,’ says Helen, ‘and some people find they have more energy and sex drive than ever before.’
Damp squib However, bedroom antics aren’t high on the list of some pregnant women if their hormones are having the opposite effect. Rather than soaring sex cravings, they would rather put on impregnable PJs and abstain for nine months. That’s okay for you, but how you handle your partner’s urges is another story! He can end up feeling both emotionally rejected and physically frustrated, so it’s time to sit down and tell him honestly how you’re feeling.
There are other ways to be intimate with your partner if sex really isn’t on the agenda – try a sensual massage, some long and luxurious foreplay, or soak in the tub (make sure the water’s not too hot!), surrounded by candles and relaxing music.
You did what?!Pregnancy hormones can make us do the oddest things. Real mums share their cringe-worthy experiences from when they were ‘under the influence’
‘I cried at many things during my pregnancy, but the most bizarre were the Carphone Warehouse ads, where the little unloved mobiles were squashed or abandoned. I got so fed up with being upset by them that I nearly sent a letter to the MD, accusing them of irresponsible advertising. Luckily I never bothered printing it out…’Lucy Almeida, 32, mum to Gemma, two
‘I had really bad morning sickness for 16 weeks and it used to strike when I least expected it. One morning, on my way to work, I threw up in the aisle of a crowded bus. I was mortified, and had to carry sick bags with me from then on.’Janet Delancey, 36, mum to Harold, seven
‘A good thing about pregnancy hormones is that you can fake it, i.e. have a go at someone who is really annoying you and blame it on the hormones.’Fiona Brooke-Vincent, 32, mum to Caitlin, two
‘In my third trimester, I got terrible flatulence. I stopped eating any wind-producing food, but to no avail. Then, one day, my nightmare happened. At work, while I was bending over to retrieve a file from a cabinet, I let rip. No-one knew what to say, but I heard people laughing as I left the room.’Yasmine Solis, 38, mum to Lauren, three, and Jasper, 12 months
It doesn’t stop there….Unfortunately, the birth of your baby will not guarantee an instant relief from hormonal upheaval, although you’ll notice some pleasant side effects, such as a relief from heartburn and constipation. Different hormones come into play after birth, as your body focuses on providing milk for your newborn. Lactation requires many different hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, prolactin (which increases milk production) and oxytocin, which forces the milk through the breast ducts and nipples.
As your body adjusts to not being pregnant anymore, hormone levels, particularly those of oestrogen and progesterone, plummet. This can have an immediate effect on your emotions, making you leap from joy one minute to weepiness the next. This normally kicks in around three days after the birth, when your milk is coming in, can last for a few days and is known as the baby blues.
However, if you find yourself constantly sad, anxious or angry, you may be suffering from the more serious postnatal depression. This can be caused by many different factors, but it’s thought that the dramatic decrease in pregnancy hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone could be responsible. No-one really knows how or why this is the case, but it has been suggested that some women are simply more sensitive to their changing hormonal levels than others.
Postnatal depression affects approximately one in ten women, though numbers could be higher as many women are too afraid to seek help. The key is not to suffer alone, as there are many sources of help and support. As well as your health visitor, midwife or GP, you could try one of the following organisations.
Association for Postnatal Illness – apni.org, 020 7386 0868Homestart UK – homestart.org.uk, 0116 233 9955MAMA (Meet-a-Mum Association) – mama.co.uk, 0845 120 3746 (7pm to 10pm, weekdays only)
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Your hormones during pregnancy
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RE: Your hormones during pregnancy
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30 June 2011 22:21
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