Changes During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a remarkable journey marked by the creation of life within a woman's body. Alongside the visible physical transformations, a symphony of hormonal changes occurs that supports fetal development and prepares the body for childbirth. Let's delve into the world of hormonal shifts during pregnancy.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
The hormonal journey begins with hCG, often referred to as the “pregnancy hormone.” Produced by cells surrounding the growing embryo, hCG plays a pivotal role in maintaining the corpus luteum, a structure formed after ovulation. This ensures a steady supply of progesterone during the early weeks of pregnancy, crucial for sustaining the uterine lining and supporting the implanted embryo.
Estrogen and Progesterone
As pregnancy progresses, the ovaries and placenta take center stage in hormone production. Estrogen and progesterone, often known as the pregnancy hormones, surge to create a supportive environment for the growing fetus. Estrogen helps in fetal organ development, while progesterone maintains the uterine lining, preventing contractions that could lead to preterm birth.
Prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, begins its ascent during pregnancy. While its levels rise gradually, it's not until after childbirth that prolactin truly takes the lead, triggering lactation and supporting breastfeeding.
Known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin comes into play during pregnancy. It plays a crucial role in uterine contractions during labor and facilitates the strong emotional bond between mother and baby. After childbirth, oxytocin continues to support breastfeeding, aiding in the milk ejection reflex.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, also undergoes changes during pregnancy. While some level of stress hormone is essential for the developing fetus, chronic stress can lead to adverse outcomes. The delicate balance ensures that stress hormones contribute to necessary physiological adaptations without compromising the well-being of the mother and baby.
Thyroid hormones, specifically thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), play a crucial role in fetal brain development and overall growth. The thyroid gland adjusts its function to meet the increased demand during pregnancy. Imbalances in thyroid hormones can impact both maternal and fetal health.
Navigating Hormonal Fluctuations
While these hormonal changes are vital for a healthy pregnancy, they can also bring about challenges. Mood swings, changes in appetite, and physical discomfort are not uncommon. Every woman's experience is unique, and factors like genetics, lifestyle, and overall health can influence how these hormonal fluctuations manifest.
How To Balance Your Hormones
Balancing hormones during pregnancy is essential for the well-being of both the expectant mother and the developing baby. Here are some tips to help support hormonal balance during pregnancy:
Regular Prenatal Checkups
Regular checkups with your primary care provider allow for monitoring of hormone levels and prompt identification of any imbalances.
In the modern world we live in, we are constantly surrounded by both physical and mental stressors in the form of work, social media, nutrient-depleted food, poor mental health, and more. Chronic stress forces your body to prioritize functions that are only absolutely necessary and can suppress both thyroid and sex hormones.
As a result it’s essential to establish a sustainable and consistent calm practice to balance hormones. Ways to help manage stress levels include: meditating, breathwork, journaling, exercise, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, spending time in nature, and fresh air.
Limit exposure to environmental chemicals
Environmental toxins—particularly xenoestrogens—interfere with estrogen levels, so limiting exposure to these chemicals helps to keep your hormones in check. Opt for organic foods as they contain fewer pesticides, make the switch to clean household and beauty products, and avoid plastic water bottles and food storage containers by using glass or stainless steel instead.
The Environmental Working Group is a great resource to learn how to lessen your toxic load.
Engage in regular exercise
It’s no surprise that physical activity impacts hormone health. Not only is it a great stress reliever: it also improves blood flow to your muscles, which helps boost hormone receptivity. In other words, it enhances delivery of nutrients and hormone signals. Another major benefit of exercise is its ability to reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
Aim to get 150 minutes of exercise per week or 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Strength training, running, walking, biking, or pilates are all great options. Pick whatever movement you enjoy the most so you’re more likely to make it a part of your daily routine.
Eat a balanced whole food diet
Eating a balanced diet that is high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber will not only keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the day, but it will also help maintain a healthy weight. All of which is crucial to keeping your hormones balanced.
- Protein: Consuming an adequate amount of protein is extremely important, as your body needs the amino acids found in protein to make protein-derived hormones known as peptides. Peptide hormones play a role in regulating physiological processes such as growth, energy metabolism, appetite, stress, and reproduction. Aim to eat 20-30 grams of protein at every meal. Wild caught salmon, pasture-raised eggs, chicken, and lentils are some of our go-to sources for protein.
- Healthy fats: It’s also important to include high-quality healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, as they help increase insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation in the body. Try to eat healthy fats like avocados, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, and olive oil daily.
- Fiber: Dietary fiber is also essential to a healthy diet. Fiber supports gut health, increases insulin sensitivity, and stimulates the hormones that control hunger, fullness, and food intake. Our favorite source of fiber is from plant foods. Aim to eat 7-8 servings of fruits and veggies per day.
Check out our guide on how to build a balanced plate to learn more.
Avoid or reduce processed foods
Minimizing consumption of highly processed foods like refined grains, white flours, cereals, sweets, and baked goods is instrumental in optimizing hormone function and avoiding obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Studies consistently show that eating refined sugar and carbohydrates promotes insulin resistance, and also interferes with the appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin that control hunger and fullness.
Processed foods have also been linked to disruption of the gut microbiome, which may lead to other hormone imbalances.
Support Your Thyroid Health
Thyroid hormones are crucial during pregnancy. Ensure your healthcare provider monitors your thyroid function regularly, as imbalances can impact both maternal and fetal health.
Take care of your gut health
A healthy gut microbiome is not only the foundation for a strong immune system, but it positively influences hormones by reducing insulin resistance and regulating appetite. In addition to eating a diet rich in fiber, strive to incorporate natural food sources of pre and probiotics into your diet on a weekly basis.
Prebiotics feed the good bacteria in your gut and can be found in apples, dandelion greens, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, flaxseeds, burdock root, and seaweed.
Probiotics add good bacteria to your gut and include sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso, and kefir. You can also take probiotic supplements.
No matter how nutritious your diet is or how consistent your exercise routine is, getting enough sleep is crucial for optimal health. Poor sleep is linked to imbalances in many hormones including cortisol, insulin, and the appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin. Aim to get at least seven hours of high quality sleep per night. Learn more about why sleep matters and our tips for falling and staying asleep here.
Your healthcare provider can recommend prenatal supplements to ensure you're meeting nutritional requirements during pregnancy. We love WeNatal.
Connect with Others
Surround yourself with a supportive network of family and friends. Emotional well-being is interconnected with hormonal health, and a strong support system can make a significant difference. At The Lanby we provide peer advisory groups to provide you with a community of like minded individuals to support you.
Avoid Unnecessary Medications
Consult with your healthcare provider before taking any medications, as certain drugs can affect hormonal balance. Only use medications prescribed or approved by your provider.
Remember, every pregnancy is unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another. Always consult with your healthcare provider before making significant changes to your diet or lifestyle, and discuss any concerns or symptoms you may be experiencing during pregnancy.
If you suspect you have a hormone imbalance during pregnancy, there are a lot of diet and lifestyle changes you can make to help bring your hormone levels into balance naturally. It’s also a good idea to work closely with a practitioner to determine the best corrective action: as you’ve learned, hormones are delicate and can be a tricky thing to navigate on your own.
The Lanby can help address hormone imbalances through advanced testing to figure out exactly what is going on, prescribe medication or supplements if necessary, and create a personalized diet and lifestyle plan that will help correct underlying causes. Book a free consult!