5 Pregnancy Hormones & How They Change Your Body

Aside from the cute, little nugget growing inside you, pregnancy hormones change the way your body feels physically, emotionally, and mentally. Read on to better understand five of your hormones, what bodily changes you can expect from them during pregnancy, and how to better deal with these changes!

I am a little bit of a control freak…. It’s an issue I am daily working on relinquishing through prayer and awareness. And you may be wondering why I bring this up at the beginning of a post about pregnancy hormones? 

If I was blind to my struggle with control issues, I wouldn’t be able to understand how they affect my life and make changes based on that knowledge. The same is true for our understanding of our hormones (both in pregnancy and outside of it!)

When we understand our hormones better, we can start to understand our bodies and our reaction better. And then we can learn to be a little more gentle with ourselves and make changes when possible and desired. 

I’m not saying it’s not okay to feel your feelings. In fact, I think feeling “all the feels” is part of what makes us human. And this post is going to focus less on the emotional side of hormones in pregnancy and more on the physiological. 

Understanding these physical changes our pregnancy hormones create will allow you to feel more at home in your body while your little nugget is growing. 

So let’s talk about the 5 major pregnancy hormones.

Pregnancy Hormone 1: Estrogen

Some people have called this the “queen hormone” and it certainly impacts A LOT of functions in our bodies. During pregnancy estrogens increases up to 30x the normal amount! It’s primarily involved with increasing the growth of different tissues in the body.

  • Stimulates uterine growth 
  • Helps develop milk ducts 
  • Increasing blood vessel growth – including in the bladder, mouth, and upper respiratory tract

Why you should care:

This allows room for baby and helps prepare your body for lactation. But it could also cause increased nosebleeds, stuffiness, vocal changes, risk of gingivitis, and salivation. 

Oral health and controlling inflammation might be even more important during this time as the CDC says up to 75% of pregnant women may have gingivitis. If you want to find out more about oral health, OraWellness (who also has a line of products) does a great job of explaining more. 

Pregnancy Hormone 2: Progesterone

Progesterone is the hormone that increases during the luteal phase of our menstrual cycle (if you want to find out more about the way your hormones change during the menstrual cycle, Nicole Jardim lays it out pretty nicely). But it also increases during pregnancy and contributes to a fair few functions. 

  • Maintains endometrial layer for implantation and prevents rejection of fetal tissue
  • Relaxes smooth (involuntary) muscle in the body
  • Stimulates breast lobules – prepare for lactation
  • Promotes maternal fat stores
  • Prompts increased ventilation

Why you should care:

Progesterone helps prevent miscarriage and prepare your body to provide energy for baby. But the relaxation of the smooth muscle in your body applies to more than just your uterus. It also applies to your bladder and kidneys, respiratory tract, pelvic floor, and GI system.

This is part of the reason women experience more constipation and heartburn, have an increased risk for hemorrhoids and pelvic floor prolapse. Drinking enough water, eating smaller meals spread throughout the day, practicing pelvic floor exercises, and using good potty posture can help with these.

Fun fact – in one study, having more heartburn during pregnancy actually did mean your baby could have more hair!

Pregnancy Hormone 3: Relaxin

This pregnancy hormone gets a bit of a bad wrap sometimes, but this is a bit unfair. It aids in the following important facets of a healthy pregnancy and delivery. 

  • Inhibits uterine activity
  • Softens cervical tissue
  • Relaxes pelvic joints and ligaments, along with the rest of your hormones

Why you should care:

Along with the rest of the hormones, relaxin plays a part in softening your ligaments. This is important for being able to carry and deliver baby but it also means you need to be more mindful of your movement. Logrolling out of bed may help prevent some back pain and making sure you have a clear path to the bathroom in the middle of the night so you don’t sprain an ankle are good examples.

Pregnancy Hormone 4: Oxytocin

Known as the “feel-good” hormone, this hormone plays a different role during this phase of a woman’s life – especially post-partum. 

  • Aids in the milk-ejection reflex after childbirth
  • Stimulates contraction of the uterus

Why you should care:

Because of the role it plays in stimulating the uterus, this pregnancy hormone helps stem bleeding after birth. Also, some women actually experience uterine contractions during breastfeeding, so something to be aware of if you choose to breastfeed baby.  Side-note – Pitocin (sometimes given to help induce labor) is the synthetic form of oxytocin. 

Pregnancy Hormone 5: Prolactin

With relaxin, prolactin is one of the most well-known pregnancy hormones due to the role it plays in breastfeeding. But it has some other functions as well.

  • Encourages milk production via enlarging mammary glands
  • Ups appetite and oxytocin secretion

Why you should care:

It’s good that this hormone increases your hunger monster because you need more calories when you’re breastfeeding. And this hormone has an inverse relationship with estrogen so it’s part of the reason some women don’t have menstrual cycles while breastfeeding.

The Gift of Knowledge

Having a better picture of the ways different hormones change and shape us through our pregnancy is a gift. And I’d love to give you another gift – my free ebook, The Body Basics, filled with the 3 most important aspects to helping you connect with your body during pregnancy or after. In it, you’ll find information to help you deal with some of the physical changes we talked about in this article, including the changes to your pelvic joints and ligaments.

Your turn – what’re your biggest concerns about your pregnancy, hormone-related or not?

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