Pregnancy can be a stressful and overwhelming time. You may be overjoyed at the thought of holding and nurturing your baby, and then, out of nowhere, your feelings may shift to a frustration of what is happening to your body. The frustration that you no longer have any energy to go about your daily routine, or that your body is rapidly changing into something you don’t even recognize. These feelings are quite normal, and you can thank your pregnancy hormones for why you may be feeling a certain way.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemicals that circulate in the blood system, and they have powerful functions. Different hormones regulate body functions, sending messages from one part of the body to another. Because hormones recognize emotional signals, they will often cause you to cry when you are sad, or cause you to react in times of fear or danger.
Moreover, pregnancy hormones regulate the changes in your body as a way to help your baby arrive safely. Understanding these hormonal functions could help decide as to what is normal during pregnancy and what may not be.
Some of the most significant hormones in pregnancy are:
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
hCG helps to maintain the levels of estrogen and progesterone. It usually reaches its peak in the first 8-11 weeks of pregnancy to help nourish the egg after it has been fertilized.
Estrogen enables the uterus and placenta to improve formulation, transferring nutrients to your baby. It also maintains the uterine lining (where your bundle of joy is safely nestled,) steps up blood circulation and regulates the production of other key pregnancy hormones.
Progesterone helps to relax various muscle tissues within the body. One vital role of progesterone is to thicken the lining of the uterus. This enables the uterus to increase in size each month (up to 500 times its normal size by month nine to be precise).
Not only does oxytocin bring forth labor contractions, it also enables milk production and encourages bonding between you and your newborn baby.
Endorphins provide a sense of well-being and can help to relieve the stress and pain associated with labor. Endorphins can also be stimulated through exercise. In fact, a recent study showed that pregnant women who exercised regularly over two months had a 57%, 79% and then a 145% increase in endorphins during their pregnancy.
Prolactin (also called PRL or lactogenic hormone) is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. This hormone enables lactation and also helps to regulate the immune system, keeping you healthy and strong.
Relaxin softens the ligaments in the pelvis and widens the cervix so that your baby can grow inside of you.
The ever-changing pregnancy hormones will play a significant role in the next nine months of your life; so now that you know what they are, let’s take a look at the interesting things they can make you and your body do.
7 Hormones Can Make Your Hair Grow
Many women experience some changes in their hair during pregnancy. In fact, higher levels of estrogen can prolong the hair growth phase, which may cause your hair to grow faster and fall out less. Some women notice their hair has more luster during pregnancy or that it changes in texture (curly hair may become more straight for example). However, such changes are not permanent and will likely regulate in the postpartum period or immediately after you stop breastfeeding. Dramatic changes in the hair may not always occur during pregnancy. Among those ladies who experience changes, it tends to be more obvious for women with longer hair.
Unfortunately, body hair can also become thicker during pregnancy. Some women will notice that the hair on both their face and arms becomes darker and more noticeable when they are pregnant. To rid unwanted hairs, you can safely tweeze, wax, or shave. It is important to note that pregnant women should stay away from chemicals such as bleaches or depilatories as they could be absorbed into the bloodstream potentially causing harm to your baby.
6 Hormones Can Make You More Fragile
Pregnancy hormones, mainly progesterone, could limit your ability to engage in physical activities, making exercise a more difficult task. While there are no studies that have documented an increased rate of injury, pregnant women may be at greater risk for joint sprains and strains because their ligaments are looser.
Pregnant women can also experience significant changes in their posture. Because the breasts are larger, and the abdomen transforms from flat to very convex, the arch in the back will likely change. This will shift your center of gravity forward and could lead to changes in your overall balance.
5 Hormones Can Change Your Vision
Changes in hormones can affect your eyes and eyesight during pregnancy. For example, increased myopia, otherwise known as nearsightedness, can occur during pregnancy due to water retention. Although vision changes during pregnancy are not as common as you think, most women who experience such changes will return to their pre-pregnancy vision after giving birth.
Some changes in vision during pregnancy could include:
- Discomfort (especially if you wear contact lenses)
- Increased fluid in the eyes
Pregnant women experiencing preeclampsia or a diabetic pregnancy could be at an elevated risk of rare eye problems, such as retinal detachment or vision loss due to an increase in IOP (intraocular pressure).
4 Hormones Can Tire You Out
Dizziness, shortness of breath and changes in blood pressure are common during pregnancy. Such pregnancy hormones can affect the tone in blood vessels and a sudden loss of tone could leave you feeling faint, dizzy and breathless. Because of this rapid expansion of the veins and the rise of stress levels in the heart and lungs, pregnant women produce more blood and should, therefore, practice greater caution when engaging in any type of physical activity.
Additionally, vigorous exercise could divert blood to the muscles, resulting in decreased blood flow to the uterus. Though this has not been proven to have a long-term impact on the baby, pregnant women should, as mentioned above, take caution if they are feeling winded. In fact, women experiencing any of these symptoms, particularly during exercise, should consult with a medical practitioner before moving forward with any form of exercise.
If you are cleared for exercise during pregnancy, be sure to take the following precautions:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Drink and rehydrate even if you are not thirsty
- Avoid saunas and steam rooms
- Limit the use of hot tubs and whirlpools
- Do not exercise when you are feeling sick or if you have a fever
- Avoid outdoor exercise during excessive heat and humidity
- Workout in areas with excellent air circulation
- Swim, as it helps to evenly disperse body heat and will prevent any overheating
- Wear form-fitting clothing or clothing that breathes
- Wear a supportive bra to avoid getting backaches or more serious back problems
- Wear proper footwear to prevent any exercise-related injuries
3 Hormones Can Elongate Your Feet
The hormone relaxin, which helps to ease the tissue in the pelvis as well as in the cervix, can work on the feet, too. With the added weight of pregnancy pushing everything down, you may begin to notice that your feet will expand. Your feet won’t physically grow to be bigger, but your arches might fall, which could result in your foot to fatten and elongate.
These symptoms will alleviate post-pregnancy, but in the meantime, you can cope with swollen pregnancy feet by doing the following:
- Avoiding long periods of sitting or standing. If you have to be on your feet for long periods of time, take breaks and sit down in between.
- Elevate your feet.
- Sleep on your side to stimulate your kidneys, which will, in turn, help reduce swelling.
- Avoid tight elastic socks or stockings to allow blood and fluids to flow as freely as possible.
- Wear comfortable, supportive shoes to help reduce the leg and back pain associated with pregnancy.
- Hydrate yourself to flush out any excess sodium your body may be holding.
2 Hormones Can Make You Hot
Feeling hot? Blame it on those fluctuating hormones. The amount of blood in a pregnant woman’s body increases by as much as 50 percent. The excess blood in your system will force your blood vessels to dilate slowly, allowing the blood to surface, which can make you feel hot. You may also feel your heartbeat accelerate suddenly, and you may begin to sweat uncontrollably.
You may also find yourself sweating even more during your third trimester, but the good news is that your blood volume will return to normal once you’ve delivered your baby.
Until then, here are some ways of dealing with the unwanted hot flashes associated with pregnancy:
- Dress in light layers so you can easily add or remove clothing when needed.
- Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- Cool down by wiping your face with a wet cloth.
- Take cooler showers.
- Protect yourself in warmer temperatures by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, so that it covers your face and shoulders.
- Sleep next to a fan or an open window.
- Maintain a healthy diet to decrease the chances of suffering from high blood pressure.
1 Hormones Can Heighten Your Sense Of Smell
Though there is no scientific research to back it up, almost every pregnant woman will experience a heightened sense of smell. This heightened sense is usually at its peak during the first trimester of pregnancy (up to about week 14), and it can bring forth nausea and morning sickness. Why? Rising levels of estrogen and hcG in the first trimester can send the sensory system into overdrive.
The smells that can cause morning sickness in early pregnancy are usually quite individual, however, there are a few smells that can set just about any pregnant woman off: cooked eggs, cooked cabbage, cooked Brussel sprouts, red meat, and fish. Fortunately, though, like many early pregnancy symptoms, a heightened sense of smell usually fades in the second trimester.
If you are pregnant and haven’t already experienced any of the above hormonal reactions, sit tight! You will likely experience one or more of these occurrences by the time your pregnancy ends. The best way to cope with these surging hormones is to relax and ride them out. Pregnancy is a life-changing event that is bound to make you feel overwhelmed, frustrated and anxious. It also isn’t a walk in the park, so give yourself a break and embrace these changes that happen to your body. After all, they won’t last forever, and they will likely give you some funny stories to share with family, friends or other pregnant women.