Why am I asleep on the couch at noon?
Why am I throwing up...again?
Where did this zit come from?
What's happening to me?
Mazal tov, you're pregnant. You may feel like your usual self has been hijacked and replaced by an alien. People warned you about morning sickness, but what about these other changes? Are they normal? Where do they come from? What do they mean? How could they possibly be side effects of a process designed to create new human beings?
Pregnancy is like a lab experiment that uses your body as a test tube. This experiment has been conducted billions of times in the past, in other test tubes, but there's no way of knowing in advance exactly how your body's unique hormonal changes will affect you.
However, it is likely that you will experience a variety of departures from your personal status quo. Each trimester comes with its own bouquet of changes, but if you're anything like me, the changes of the first trimester may come as a surprise. “I don't look pregnant yet, so why do I feel so pregnant?”
Hormones affect our brains, bodies, and the systems that run the show. When we're pregnant, our hormones act in concert with each other toward the goal of making our babies. But since the baby is their priority, your comfort may take second place for a while.
Hormones aren't actually out to get you. But they've got an important job to do and in order for them do it, they're incidentally going to cause you some side effects. It's not personal, but, especially during your first trimester when everything is new, it might feel personal.
So which hormone is responsible for what? What are the ingredients of the Molotov Cocktail inside you?
7 Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
This one is more of a catalyst than a team player.Follicle stimulating hormone is a hormone that stimulates follicles.
At the beginning of your menstrual cycle, FSH tells your ovaries' egg-bearing follicles to ripen their eggs and start producing estrogen.
Estrogen prompts the rebuilding of the uterine lining and eventually shuts down the FSH, and also prompts a blast of luteinizing hormone which bursts the follicle and releases the egg.
Once pregnant, FSH and LH are inactive.
6 Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
At the same time, estrogen also prompts a blast ofluteinizing hormone which bursts the follicle and releases the egg. The opened follicle turns into a structure called the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone, which ripens the uterus and inhibits LH. Now the egg journeys down the Fallopian tubes to await its sperm suitors.
Estrogen is one of the two most transformative hormones.
Your placenta produces estrogen, whose levels will be a thousand times higher by the end of your pregnancy than they are in a nonpregnant woman. This, therefore, is the hormone to point to if you're feeling weepy, bloated, fragile, and like you need to repaint the nursery now.
Also, by improving the blood supply, estrogen makes everything grow. Breasts grow, moles and skin tags grow, spider veins grow, and blood vessel beds get engorged. Extraestrogen can increase your appetite and change your skin's pigmentation. And, if you're glowing...it's the estrogen. However, if you feel nauseated, that might also be the estrogen (try small frequent meals to combat this).
But it's all for a good cause. Estrogen prompts the development of many of your baby's organs and systems. It also stimulates the growth of your baby's adrenal gland and its hormone production, and helps your uterus respond to oxytocin.
Estrogen and progesterone are the two biggest players in this game, working together to cause many of your changes. Estrogen and progesterone together stimulate the endometrium to support your fertilized egg. Estrogen and progesterone together also inhibit your body's response to prolactin, the hormone that tells you it's time to make milk, so you don't start lactating early.
Estrogen and progesterone together also make your stomach empty more slowly, which may lead to nausea. Here are some things you can try that may help somewhat: ginger tea, ginger ale, fizzy water, Tums, motion-sickness bands, acupuncture, or hypnosis. Talk to your doctor.
This is the other one of the two most transformative hormones.
This is the one that's making you sleepy! Progesterone levels surge in the first trimester of pregnancy, telling your brain it's time for a nap. Get plenty of rest, and get a reasonable amount of body-friendly exercise too, at least a bit every day. Get iron and protein to help minimize sluggishness and lethargy. Vegetarians, please pay careful attention to your diet during this time to make sure you're getting complete protein combinations.
And...this is the one that's giving you pimples! Progesterone increases skin's natural oiliness. However, your skin is influenced by a host of factors, all of which contribute to its well-being. Yes, oiliness encourages blemishes. But stress also plays a huge part in our skin's behavior, as do diet and skin-care regimens. How about a facial?
And...this is the one that's giving you heartburn and acid reflux and making you (whisper) constipated! And if you're burping and farting, progesterone is also the culprit. Progesterone relaxes your smooth muscles, to keep your uterus from contracting early, but a side effect of this muscle relaxant is it slows gastric emptying and decreases your bowel tone.
It can also increase hair growth, for instance on your breasts or lower abdomen. Progesterone also relaxes your blood vessels, thus lowering your blood pressure. So if you're feeling dizzy, it's your progesterone. Be careful about suddenly standing up or spinning around if you're feeling dizzy, and get a well-balanced diet and some well-balanced exercise to help with the gastrointestinal delicacies.
The drugstore can help with your heartburn and acid reflux, or you can check out thesehome remedies.
But for all the less-than-sexy moments it provides us, progesterone does us a great service: it is a powerful anti-inflammatory which turns down your immune system so your body won't reject the alien DNA (your baby) suddenly living inside it.
3 Human Placental Lactogen (hPL)
Human placental lactogen is a growth hormone made by the placenta. It affects your metabolism by breaking down fat to provide nutrition for your baby. It also inhibits your insulin from getting glucose into your cells, thus increasing your bloodstream glucose levels and making more available to your baby.
This hormone has much to do with our sugar levels
In other words, your body uses more fatty acids and less glucose, so your baby can have more of the glucose. Low hPL levels are linked to small babies. Later, in the second trimester, hPL can block your insulin's action, elevating your blood sugar levels.
If your pancreas can't create sufficient compensatory insulin, you may get gestational diabetes. Finally, in the third trimester, hPL gets your breasts ready to lactate and prompts the production of colostrum.
2 Human Gonadotropic Hormone
This is also called human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG.
HCG's job is to support your corpus luteum and to regulate your estrogen and progesterone levels. In turn, regulating your progesterone plays a role in your baby's sexual differentiation.When you pee on a stick, hCG is what the stick detects that tells it you're pregnant. A few days after your embryo implants itself, your new placenta starts producing hCG, its levels doubling roughly every couple of days, for the first trimester.
This is the one to point at when you need to pee...again! HCG increases the blood supply to your pelvis, making you feel like you need to visit the loo a lot. Fortunately, this gets better after the first trimester.
And, while the research is not yet 100% conclusive, we currently believe that this is also the one to point to when you need to throw up...again. We're not sure yet why hCG seems to play a role in morning sickness, but because morning sickness and hCG levels seem to follow the same pattern of spiking in the second half of the first trimester, we believe they're connected.
Please take a deep breath before you read the next paragraph and let it out slowly, feeling the breath pass through your whole body.
Cortisol is a stress hormone whose levels rise during pregnancy. This rise is most pronounced from the second trimester onward, but it's good to start dealing with it now. Cortisol encourages lipogenesis (which promotes fatty acid production) and fat storage.
This helps make sure the body has the nutritional reserves it needs for a healthy pregnancy (especially because, if you recall, your hPL is encouraging your body to use more fatty acids and less glucose). Cortisol helps trigger estrogen production. Toward the end of your pregnancy, cortisol will also help with your baby's brain and lung development. It's useful.
But cortisol levels and stress levels go hand-in-hand. (So if you're screaming at someone, it may be the cortisol.) Now, in general, the placenta protects the baby from the mother's cortisol. But when the mother is stressed out, the placenta becomes less protective and her cortisol can affect the baby.
Stressed-out in-utero babies have higher heart rates, but more noteworthily, a mother's anxiety canaffect the development of her baby's brain and can put the baby at longer-term risk for anxiety, depression, ADHD, difficulty in school, emotional problems, and metabolic problems.
I'm not going to tell you, “so don't be stressed!” I am going to suggest you develop a daily practice of noticing when you feel good and when you feel stressed and taking note of what makes you feel these ways. Can you work the feel-good situations into every day? Can you rearrange your life to minimize stressful situations?
We don't have a choice about everything in our lives, but we do have a choice about some things, and we have a choice about how we handle our reactions. Some aspects of your life can't be changed, but many can, and little changes count for a lot. Remember that your job now is to take wonderful care of yourself and treat yourself beautifully.
Your job now is to practice showing yourself the love and kindness you probably are very good at showing other people. Now it needs to start at home. How would it feel if you put your own happiness first on a regular basis? How would your life change if you loved yourself as you love others?
How would it feel on the inside if you treated yourself with as much compassion and tenderness as you intend to treat your baby?Now take whatever that looks like for you and go with it, every day, and your cortisol levels will thank you. And so will your baby.