There's nothing quite like the emotional rollercoaster of bringing a new life into the world. But getting to this stage doesn't mean the wild ride is over just yet. Your hormones are still hard at work in the aftermath of birth and they won’t return to your baseline levels for a while yet.
In this article we'll take a look at what your hormones are doing in the postpartum period, when they will level out and what impact breastfeeding has. We’ll also take a look at some of the signs of hormonal imbalance and give you some suggestions if you’re worried about your postpartum hormonal health.
What happens to hormones postpartum?
During pregnancy, levels of the female hormones progesterone and oestrogen are the highest levels of all time. These hormones play a crucial role in creating dopamine and serotonin, which is why so many women report feeling happy in pregnancy.
But as soon as your baby and the placenta are delivered, both progesterone and oestrogen plummet. To compensate, oxytocin increases. This is known as the bonding hormone and helps nurture the mother baby dyad. Prolactin also increases, for producing breast milk.
This rapid change to hormones is why so many women feel very up and down in the first few days after birth, with about 80% experiencing the 'baby blues' (which can be particularly bad on day three).
2 - 6 weeks
After the dust from the shock of the first few weeks settles, you may start to feel a bit more stable. But during this period, the positive post-birth hormones will continue to dwindle. While the baby blues are normal, if you are still experiencing symptoms two weeks after birth, or if your symptoms are severe and negatively impacting your quality of life, you may have postpartum depression.
At three months out from birth, your hormones are still working hard to get back to normal. Even if your hormones are getting there, you’re likely dealing with the usual stress and sleeplessness that comes with the newborn territory. This stress and a lack of sleep can increase cortisol, which in turn decreases levels of melatonin and serotonin, which may impact your mood. Again, if your symptoms are severe or you’re worried about postpartum depression, speak to your healthcare provider.
Your body, which has been producing relaxin throughout pregnancy, may continue to do so for around five months postpartum. Relaxin helps soften your cervix and relax your pelvic ligaments to allow for an easier delivery, but postpartum it means you are still more prone to spraining or overstretching muscles.
When do postpartum hormones return to normal?
It’s different for every woman, but by around six months many women’s hormones are back to their pre-pregnancy levels. By this point, hormonal changes in oestrogen and progesterone should be back to pre-pregnancy levels and many women get their first period around now.
How does breastfeeding affect postpartum hormones?
Women who breastfeed will find their hormone levels are altered for longer. It’s believed that hormones don’t return to normal until after six months postpartum in around 40% of women who exclusively breastfeed. It’s also not uncommon for women to not get their period back until they night wean or stop breastfeeding altogether.
What are the signs of postpartum hormone imbalance
If you’re worried your hormones are imbalanced, there are several signs you can look out for including:
- Low mood, depression or anxiety
- Low sex drive
- Weight gain
- Cysts or fibroids
- Long term tiredness
What to do if you think you have postpartum hormonal imbalance
Manage stress: You can’t eliminate stress from life with a baby, but you can manage it with tools that work for you. That could be anything from a daily mindfulness practice to communicating honestly with loved ones and asking for help.
Exercise: Physical activity strongly affects your hormonal health. There are many hormonal benefits to exercise, it improves blood flow to the muscles and increases hormone receptor sensitivity and amino acid transporters, and in doing so boosts the delivery of nutrients and hormone signals.
Eat well: A nourishing diet can help support hormone health. Load up on healthy fats, as research found omega-3s may prevent cortisol levels from increasing during chronic stress (and being woken multiple times a night definitely counts as chronic stress in our opinion). You’ll also want to eat enough protein at every meal, as it helps your body to create protein-derived hormones.
Sleep: Poor sleep is linked with imbalances in many hormones, including insulin and cortisol. Getting enough sleep while caring for a baby is tough, but it’s vital for hormone health. If you have a partner, make sure you’re sharing the load and don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends and family.
See your GP: If you’re concerned about your postpartum hormonal health, book an appointment with your GP.
Learn more: You can learn more about your hormonal health by taking one of our at home hormone tests. Our advanced tests study your hormone changes over a 24-hour period to give you detailed insight. The test will identify symptoms of hormonal imbalances and you’ll get actionable recommendations.
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