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.  

But as you settle in you may start to feel down, irritable and most certainly tired... Which can also lead to guilt.  

This is not uncommon and you are not alone if you are feeling this way. So don't panic, and certainly don't beat yourself up. 

This is caused by a hormonal imbalance that is triggered after childbirth. This will lead to symptoms such as mood swings, mild depression, irritability, and in severe cases, postpartum depression. 

Although it may seem like a cop out to blame our moods and emotions on hormones, it is an unavoidable biological reaction childbirth and can be the primary driver of these symptoms. 

Over time hormone levels will even out on their own for most women.  You just have to do your best to manage the symptoms while they persist. 

Hormones Affected Postpartum

Progesterone 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 hip bones 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

One 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.

postpartum depression

The following 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 Postpartum Depression

 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, lose 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 blues are 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

Postpartum depression may not show up right away and may not be noticeable until well into the first year of motherhood. 

This can have a severe impact on your ability to function and go about your regular life.

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.

It is a serious condition and medical assistance should be sought out.

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
  • 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

There are two primary 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 and this should form part of the discussion with your doctor so you understand your options and associated risks. 

postpartum hormones effects

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

  • Avoid complex carbs and dairy
  • Increase fiber
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid polyunsaturated fats
  • Do Yoga
  • Try Acupuncture
  • Vitamin D, A and Magnesium supplements
  • Placenta Encapsulation
  • Avoid Soy
  • No Caffeine or Alcohol

Final Word

This can be a scary time where you may feel that you have lost yourself at times. Your identity as a person has changed (for new Moms) and this can be hard to deal with at the best of times.

The hormonal changes amplify these challenges and take you to places that you have not been before.

Don't suffer in silence. Seek out support wherever you can, and always remember that medical intervention is there if needed.