Hor­mones to the max

Your hor­mones work hard to keep your baby safe

Your Pregnancy - - Contents -

JUST A FEW DAYS AF­TER THE FER­TILISED EGG HAS BURROWED INTO THE UTERINE LIN­ING, THE BRAND-NEW PLACENTA STARTS PRO­DUC­ING HCG

AS SOON AS the egg and sperm cell meet, th­ese chem­i­cal mes­sen­gers fire up to en­sure that the right things hap­pen at the right time. There are un­pleas­ant side ef­fects: Your emo­tions see­saw, there’s a fur­nace in your chest and those pim­ples you last saw as a teen are back. But there are also lovely sur­prises: those two peanuts you smug­gled un­der your shirt be­fore are now proper boobs burst­ing out of your bra. All th­ese changes are the re­sult of more than 30 hor­mones cours­ing through your body. We look at a few.

HCG The preg­nancy alarm

One of the first hor­mones to ar­rive has the in­tim­i­dat­ingly long name of hu­man chori­onic go­nadotropin (hCG), but it’s also known as the preg­nancy hor­mone. This hor­mone is only present dur­ing preg­nancy, so it’s used for preg­nancy tests. It oc­curs in your blood and urine. So whether you use a home preg­nancy test or get a doc­tor to take blood – if there’s hCG, you’re preg­nant! Just a few days af­ter the fer­tilised egg has burrowed into the uterine lin­ing, the brand-new placenta starts pro­duc­ing hCG. The amount of hCG in­creases in­cred­i­bly quickly and reaches a peak at day seventy. There­after, the level de­creases, and the hor­mone then keeps a low pro­file for the rest of your preg­nancy. The most im­por­tant func­tion of hCG is to en­sure that the steroid hor­mones oe­stro­gen and pro­ges­terone con­tinue to be pro­duced. With­out hCG, your pro­ges­terone level will de­crease again and you’ll men­stru­ate. As the placenta be­comes more ma­ture and is able to take over the pro­duc­tion of oe­stro­gen and pro­ges­terone it­self, hCG pro­duc­tion de­creases. If you’re look­ing to blame some­thing for that morn­ing sick­ness and the im­mense fa­tigue that hits you in the first trimester, try hCG. It’s also the hor­mone that’s re­spon­si­ble for send­ing you off to the loo ev­ery five min­utes, and it sup­presses your im­mune sys­tem to lower the risk of your body re­ject­ing the baby – which makes you more sus­cep­ti­ble to ill­ness dur­ing this time.

OE­STRO­GEN Bet­ter blood flow and sore boobs

Oe­stro­gen is per­haps the most well known fe­male hor­mone and is pro­duced through­out your preg­nancy. As your preg­nancy pro­gresses, more and more oe­stro­gen pumps through your body. This group of hor­mones is usu­ally pro­duced in the ovaries, but dur­ing preg­nancy it’s also made in the placenta, and it plays a key role in a healthy preg­nancy. It aids blood flow to the uterus, sup­ports womb growth and main­tains the uterine lin­ing – all to en­sure an ideal en­vi­ron­ment for your baby to grow. Oe­stro­gen helps to im­prove blood cir­cu­la­tion and also en­sures that your blood vol­ume starts in­creas­ing by week ten. Plus, it ac­ti­vates and reg­u­lates the pro­duc­tion of other key hor­mones, in­clud­ing pro­ges­terone. Baby also ben­e­fits from oe­stro­gen: It helps his or­gans de­velop, and later on it’s par­tially re­spon­si­ble for the de­vel­op­ment of fe­male sex char­ac­ter­is­tics. It also reg­u­lates the bone den­sity in baby’s de­vel­op­ing arms and legs. It’s oe­stro­gen, to­gether with other hor­mones, that causes your boobs to swell and be­come sore or ten­der early in your preg­nancy and start swelling later on – all in prepa­ra­tion for breast­feed­ing. And while oe­stro­gen is busy with so many im­por­tant tasks, it un­for­tu­nately also has a few less pleas­ant side ef­fects, like the per­ma­nently blocked nose you some­times have dur­ing preg­nancy, and even headache and post­nasal drip. The ex­tra blood can also make your skin look red and blotchy and cause your palms to itch. Feel free to blame the oe­stro­gen (to­gether with a few other hor­mones) for the pig­men­ta­tion that’s ap­pear­ing all over: darker nip­ples, a brown stripe on your belly some­times and dark marks around your eyes.

PRO­GES­TERONE Keeps baby in­side

Pro­ges­terone also be­comes very im­por­tant while you’re preg­nant, as it pre­vents your uterus spon­ta­neously abort­ing the foe­tus by de­vel­op­ing a “lin­ing” that can sup­port the placenta. This in turn is very im­por­tant for baby’s sup­ply of food and oxy­gen. Ini­tially, the ovaries pro­duce pro­ges­terone, but from the sec­ond trimester the placenta also makes it. Be­fore your preg­nancy your uterus con­tracts and moves nat­u­rally, but while you’re ex­pect­ing, pro­ges­terone helps to pre­vent th­ese move­ments. It helps your uterus swell and make space for your grow­ing baby. As your preg­nancy pro­gresses, your pro­ges­terone level in­creases – un­til just be­fore birth, when it de­creases to give the womb a chance to con­tract.

Pro­ges­terone stim­u­lates the growth of breast tis­sue and is re­spon­si­ble, to­gether with oe­stro­gen, for the ten­der­ness in your boobs early in preg­nancy. And yes, pro­ges­terone is not all good: All the pro­ges­terone in your body con­spires with the hor­mone re­laxin to in­flu­ence the smooth mus­cles. That’s why the valve be­tween your tummy and throat doesn’t al­ways work very well and so you may ex­pe­ri­ence heart­burn, es­pe­cially in the third trimester. Pro­ges­terone and re­laxin can also soften car­ti­lage, which loosens joints and lig­a­ments and causes all kinds of hip and pelvis prob­lems. In ad­di­tion, it also re­laxes the di­ges­tive sys­tem and blad­der, which can lead to con­sti­pa­tion and flat­u­lence. It can make your gums bleed and give you acne again for the first time af­ter your teenage years. And it can make you sweat more than usual!

PROLACTIN Prac­tise breast­feed­ing

Prolactin is re­spon­si­ble for the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of milk-pro­duc­ing cells in your breasts. While you’re preg­nant, pro­ges­terone and oe­stro­gen pre­vent milk pro­duc­tion, but as soon as baby’s born, the lev­els of th­ese hor­mones drop dra­mat­i­cally, and the dairy can start pro­duc­ing thanks to prolactin. Prolactin in­creases grad­u­ally as your preg­nancy pro­gresses, and the in­creas­ing oe­stro­gen in your body is be­lieved to be re­spon­si­ble. Later on, prolactin helps to keep you from fall­ing preg­nant again while you’re breast­feed­ing – but it’s most def­i­nitely not a re­li­able birth con­trol method, as many moms have come to learn the hard way! Of course there’s also a less pleas­ant side: Prolactin is in­di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for all the ex­tra fur on your face, belly and other parts of your body. For­tu­nately, this hair grad­u­ally dis­ap­pears af­ter the birth.

RE­LAXIN Re­lax and en­joy it

Re­laxin is re­leased early on in your preg­nancy. It reins in womb move­ments and also soft­ens the cervix in prepa­ra­tion for birth. It works with pro­ges­terone to re­lax your mus­cles, lig­a­ments and joints, es­pe­cially in your pelvis. In this way, it pre­pares the way along which your baby will travel when he’s born. But soft­en­ing mus­cles can some­times be quite painful and cause back­ache and other ail­ments.

OXYTOCIN The car­ing hor­mone

Oxytocin is some­times called the magic hor­mone, be­cause it’s ap­par­ently re­spon­si­ble for the nur­tur­ing be­hav­iour of new moms and dads. On a more prac­ti­cal level, it’s also re­spon­si­ble for the reg­u­lar con­trac­tions of the uterus while you’re preg­nant – like Brax­ton-Hicks – and it’s the hor­mone that even­tu­ally kick-starts the con­trac­tions for labour. Con­trac­tions while you’re breast­feed­ing are also at­trib­uted to oxytocin and will help your uterus shrink back to its orig­i­nal size. YP

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