Postpartum Hormonal Changes & How They Affect You
Many women understand the physical changes that come with pregnancy and childbirth, but may be less prepared for the mental and psychological changes.
Many women understand the physical changes that accompany pregnancy and childbirth. We usually know ahead of time that our weights will fluctuate, we may see changes in our skin and/or hair, and that our breasts will begin producing milk for our newborns - among the many other changes that our bodies experience. However, many women are not prepared for the mental and psychological changes that can take place during and after their pregnancy. The good news is that these changes are temporary and can occur as a result of hormonal changes after birth that may make you feel a bit "off" or "out of whack".
What to Know About Hormone Changes After Birth
Hormonal shifts that occur postpartum have been linked to several conditions, including postpartum depression. Depression after pregnancy is actually more common than many women realize, and it can be trickier to tackle than situational depression because our hormones are out of our control. While there are several postpartum hormonal changes that occur, there are a couple in particular that can really affect how we feel:
Progesterone: During pregnancy, progesterone is produced at a high rate. During this time, it relaxes ligaments, helps your uterus accommodate your growing baby, and counteracts common effects of another significantly increased hormone known as prolactin. However, progesterone drops off almost immediately after delivering the placenta while prolactin remains elevated. Your ovaries will not start creating progesterone again until your first menstrual cycle, which may create a temporary imbalance.
Prolactin: You may know prolactin as the hormone mostly responsible for milk production, though its effects aren’t usually felt until after giving birth (when your increased progesterone, which counters the effects of elevated prolactin, sharply declines). What many don’t realize is that prolactin is also known to affect dopamine, which gives us feelings of euphoria and happiness. As a result, prolactin can sometimes be an underlying cause behind moodiness, low energy levels, and slowed metabolism after your baby’s birth.
Between high prolactin production, no progesterone, potentially lower dopamine, and your other pregnancy hormones decreasing, it’s no wonder that your energy, moods, and emotions can feel jumbled after having your baby! A lot of new moms experience the baby blues after giving birth, which is often described as feelings of anxiety and/or being “down”. Women may feel overjoyed one moment and then sad, moody, or overwhelmed the next. Though baby blues are considered to be a natural side effect of the hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy and after birth, 1 in 10 women with the baby blues may develop serious, longer-lasting depression. In fact, postpartum depression can begin as early as right before giving birth and as far along as 12 months after having your baby.
What to Do if You're Experiencing Postpartum Hormonal Shifts
All of this means that you are likely still experiencing postpartum hormonal changes - even months after your baby's birth. As a result, everything you may have been feeling lately is probably still influenced by these hormonal shifts. Prolactin levels typically begin to drop around the 4 to 6-month mark, which is also associated with a natural decrease in breast milk production during this time. If you have been feeling overwhelmed lately, just remember:
You don't have to hold yourself back. Cry if you feel like crying, but be sure to communicate with those close to you in a healthy, intentional way about how you're feeling and what you are experiencing. Reaching out to others during this time is critical and can be a tremendous help. Sometimes simply talking things through and trying not to dwell or get lost in negative emotions can help you feel as though a weight has been lifted from your shoulders.
It's okay to accept help. Whether it's a family member volunteering to babysit so you can have an afternoon to yourself, a friend running an errand for supplies or household items, or your partner completing the weekend chores, you can accept assistance when it's offered. You don't have to do it all, and leaning on your support system can lessen feelings of stress while giving you some well-deserved rest. CafeMom is a great online resource with a wide range of groups centered around nearly every mom-centric topic. Their advice groups and Depression Support Center can be especially helpful during a tough time.
It's important to know how your hormones change after birth, mama, so you can better understand your body during this unique time. If you or your family have a history of depression, you may be at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. Talk to your doctor right away if these feelings are strong, stay with you throughout the day, linger for several weeks, and/or are preventing you from taking proper care of yourself or your baby. Without a treatment plan from your healthcare provider, postpartum depression can worsen, so it's essential to be open and honest during your follow-up appointments. What you are experiencing is not unusual - In fact, 13% of pregnant women and new mothers experience depression, so you are not alone. Reaching out if you may be struggling just means that you're a concerned mama!
Medela is here for you every step of the way. One of the ways we support our breast milk feeding moms is through a variety of carefully curated and helpful resources. Join our diverse community of fellow moms on Facebook to connect with others on their unique breast milk feeding journey. For more pressing questions, you can always reach out privately or connect with a nearby lactation expert for answers to all your nursing and pumping concerns. Remember - our resources and support network are here for you!