Hormones play a vital role in regulating different bodily functions, ensuring they all work together harmoniously. Many key hormones help prepare, maintain, and support a favorable environment for the baby to grow and develop healthily inside your womb. From progesterone and estrogen to prolactin and relaxin, these hormones allow pregnancy and let you continue a beautiful, rollercoaster journey to motherhood.
If you’re an expectant mom, remember how it felt when you saw the positive line drawn on the pregnancy test?
How about when you had an ultrasound to get a sneak peek of your growing little one?
The moment you felt your baby’s little kick and punches, weren’t you thrilled?
Being pregnant is a time of wonder and joy filled with exciting, albeit sometimes chaotic, moments.
Behind it is a hormonal rollercoaster that causes you to have wild experiences.
The frequent visits to the bathroom in the early morning, terrible mood swings, unbearable aches and pains, unusual cravings, and various body changes.
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7 key pregnancy hormones
Understanding how the different hormones work behind your pregnancy can help you better grasp the changes happening in your body, take proper steps in caring for your health and your baby’s, and identify any warning signals for concerns.
Below are the key hormones that work together behind your pregnancy:
1. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
The placenta produces Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) soon after the fertilized egg implants in your uterine lining.
Its levels significantly rise during the early stages of pregnancy and then gradually decline. hCG is what’s detected during pregnancy tests.
hCG sustains the growth of the fertilized egg (embryo) and maintains pregnancy.
It supports corpus luteum function, a structure that temporarily grows on the ovaries, which is responsible for producing progesterone.
It stimulates the production of progesterone by the ovaries, which is crucial for creating a favorable environment in the uterus and sustaining the pregnancy.
Progesterone helps maintain the uterine lining, ensuring adequate nourishment and support for the developing embryo.
Additionally, hCG plays a vital role in preventing the breakdown of the corpus luteum, which is responsible for producing progesterone in the early stages of pregnancy.
Progesterone support and maintain a healthy pregnancy by creating a favorable environment for the growth and development of the embryo.
It’s produced by the ovaries, which maintain the thickening of the uterine lining to support the implantation of the fertilized egg.
It also supports the development of the placenta, which delivers nutrients and removes wastes from your growing baby.
Progesterone keeps the uterus from contracting and regulates your immune system to prevent premature labor.
The body keeps on producing progesterone hormones throughout your pregnancy.
Estrogen and progesterone work together to maintain and achieve a healthy pregnancy.
Like progesterone, estrogen is produced by your ovaries and later by the placenta during pregnancy.
It supports and facilitates the changes in your body during this time.
Estrogen helps prepare the uterus to hold a growing baby. It encourages uterine growth, creating an optimal environment for the fetus to develop.
This hormone develops your breasts and prepares them for milk production after childbirth.
Oxytocin, commonly known as the “love hormone,” creates a nurturing environment and strengthens the bond between you and your baby.
This hormone prepares your body for labor, stimulating uterine contractions during childbirth and ensuring the safe delivery of your baby.
Oxytocin levels rise significantly during breastfeeding, stimulating milk production, triggering the let-down reflex, and supporting successful nursing.
Throughout pregnancy and after, oxytocin levels fluctuate.
The love hormone establishes the loving connection between the mom and her baby.
The pituitary gland in your brain produces prolactin and stimulates the growth of milk-producing cells in the breasts to support milk production for breastfeeding.
Its levels rise during the second trimester of pregnancy and peak once your baby is born.
Frequent and consistent breastfeeding encourages prolactin release, maintaining a steady milk supply for your baby’s needs.
Relaxin relaxes and softens the ligaments and joints in the pelvis and cervix, preparing and facilitating the baby to easily pass through the birth canal.
This hormone gradually increases during the second trimester of pregnancy. It reaches its peak in the third semester.
7. Human placental lactogen (hPL)
Human Placental Lactogen (hPL) is produced by the placenta, which regulates your metabolism and glucose levels, ensuring the supply of nutrients.
It helps regulate maternal glucose metabolism, ensuring a steady supply of nutrients to the fetus.
hPL also stimulates breast development in preparation for lactation.
How do pregnancy hormones affect your body?
One of the most common changes in your body during pregnancy is swelling due to water retention.
You may notice swelling in your ankles, feet, and hands. It can happen due to increased blood circulation in your system and surges of pregnancy hormones.
Sometimes, weight gain during pregnancy is due to your body retaining fluids.
Pregnancy hormones cause your body to retain fluids, which can lead to weight gain.
You may also gain weight due to the fetus’s and placenta’s growth.
2. Breast changes
Estrogen increases your blood flow, resulting in having enlarged, achy, and tender breasts and noticing darker nipples.
3. Nausea and vomiting
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is the most likely culprit for morning sickness during pregnancy.
As its level rises, you’ll feel more nauseated, signaling that the implantation and development of the placenta are going well.
It usually starts during the early stages of pregnancy and stops during the second trimester.
Pregnancy hormones, particularly progesterone, can cause you to always feel tired and sleepy.
It’s because your body is constantly working to prepare and maintain a healthy pregnancy.
5. Mood swings
As progesterone levels rise throughout pregnancy, it’s what makes most pregnant women have mood swings.
This hormone can cause a roller coaster ride on your emotions.
One moment you laugh hysterically because of your husband’s joke; the next, you get angry over an open closet door.
6. Constipation and bloating
Progesterone can slow down your digestive system, resulting in bloating and constipation.
7. Back pain
Relaxin, as its name calls it, causes your joints and ligaments to “relax” or loosen up, which can cause you to lose your strength and feel wobbly.
It can easily lead to back pain, especially when you try to do some heavy stuff.
9. Hair and nail growth
You may notice hair loss or rapid hair growth on unwanted parts of your body, such as your face, arms, legs, or back, caused by high estrogen levels in your body.
Besides hair loss, you may also notice nail brittleness or other undesirable changes like nail keratosis.
Some women may otherwise experience rapid nail growth during pregnancy. There are natural remedies like Reishi mushrooms to help with hair growth.
10. Skin pigmentation
Estrogen stimulates skin cells that produce melanin, giving skin color and tone.
That’s why even though you have the so-called “pregnancy glow” due to the increased blow making your skin glow and become radiant, you may still notice some skin pigmentation.
As a result, you’ll see a darker skin tone on your areolas, genitals, scars, and the linea alba.
Grey patches on your face may also occur, commonly known as the “mask of pregnancy” or melasma.
11. Stretch marks
Stretch marks can develop due to the stretching in your abdominal and cervical area as your baby bump grows along with the pregnancy hormones impacting your skin elasticity.
12. Increased urination
The increased blood flow caused by high estrogen levels makes your kidneys work double time. As a result, you feel the need to urinate more often.
13. Anxiety and depression
During pregnancy, it’s normal to become anxious about your baby’s health and what’s going to be your experience during labor and delivery.
You will also tend to worry about your future responsibilities as a mom.
Along with anxiety, most moms also experience intense loneliness and sadness due to various social lifestyle changes and relationships.
The changes in your body due to pregnancy can also be a factor. These can all trigger depression which hormonal changes during pregnancy can worsen.
14. Unusual cravings
Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, your sense of smell and taste and your brain’s center for reward or pleasure changes, leading to unusual or certain food cravings.
How to manage the side effects of hormonal changes?
Pregnancy hormones can cause many changes in your body, and sometimes you won’t even understand their effects.
It shouldn’t stop you from making the most of this beautiful journey as a woman and becoming a mom.
Below are tips to help you manage the effects of pregnancy hormone fluctuations:
1. Talk to your doctor
Consult your doctor to assess your symptoms if pregnancy hormones or underlying health issues cause them.
That way, they can advise you, create a treatment plan, and prescribe you medicines.
2. Get regular exercise
Engage in regular slow to moderate physical activities daily to help regulate your hormone levels and improve your overall well-being.
Consult first with your doctor or a healthcare professional about exercises you can do while pregnant to avoid injuries or complications.
3. Eat a balanced diet
Consume foods that contain essential nutrients for your baby and boost your health during pregnancy.
Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet that includes whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean meat, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, legumes, and beans.
Limit or avoid highly processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, to maintain hormones at healthy levels.
4. Eat small meals
Eat small frequent meals every one to two hours to relieve and prevent an upset stomach. Drink your prenatal vitamins with a portion of food or snack to reduce nausea and vomiting.
5. Manage stress
Practice stress management exercises like yoga and meditation, deep breathing techniques, listening to music, dancing, journaling your thoughts, talking to a friend or partner, or just doing the hobbies you enjoy.
6. Get enough sleep
Get at least 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night daily to promote hormonal balance and recharge your body from feeling tired and fatigued.
Take short naps during the day to rest your body.
7. Wear a support bra
Wearing a comfortable support bra can help alleviate breast tenderness and sensitivity symptoms.
8. Drink plenty of fluids
Don’t stop drinking plenty of fluid, even with an increased frequency of urination, unless you experience pain or discomfort when urinating.
Consult your doctor immediately.
9. Elevate your legs
Elevate your legs and feet as much as possible when sitting or lying down to alleviate swelling.
10. Take medications
There are available over-the-counter medicines that can help you manage the effects of your pregnancy hormones.
If you’re experiencing nausea, try taking ginger or B6 supplements. When constipation is ruining your day, ask your doctor if you can safely take a stool softener.
There are instances when your doctor will prescribe medications.
11. Talk to your support system
Talking to your partner, friends, or family can help you reduce stress and anxiety and provide emotional support through your journey.
Consider attending joining prenatal classes or support groups to share experiences with other pregnant moms and talk about your feelings and concerns.