The changes of pregnancy and the postpartum period are some of the most intense hormonal changes that a woman’s body will ever go through, and even though they’re normal, they can be difficult to manage. Right after birth, some hormone levels fall dramatically while others rise, and this is what leads to the postpartum issues that so many women experience– depression, extreme fatigue, hair loss, and more.
Knowing what to expect and some ways to cope with these changes can really help to make it easier for you to get through this stressful time! Here are some of the things you should know.
How do your hormones change postpartum?
Estrogen and Progesterone
Over the course of a pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone are at very high levels. Right after delivery, whether you deliver vaginally or via C-section, these two hormones drop very fast. This is a natural change– your body doesn’t need the high levels anymore and there are other hormones that need to get to work.
However, the sharp drop is often part of the reason (combined with the stress of labor and a new baby) that many women feel low or just “off” physically and emotionally right after the birth, and it’s a large contributor to postpartum depression in the following weeks and months. This change is also what leads to postpartum hair loss, and can contribute to some additional sleep disturbances on top of your new baby.
Around three months after your baby is born, your estrogen and progesterone levels will begin to return to normal.
Prolactin and Oxytocin
At the same time that your estrogen and progesterone levels are falling, your prolactin and oxytocin levels are rising. Oxytocin plays a role in labor– it’s the hormone that stimulates uterine contractions. It also plays a major role in early mother-child bonding. Prolactin, on the other hand, is the hormone involved in milk production.
If you choose not to breastfeed, these hormone levels will drop off fairly quickly, but if you do nurse your baby, they will stay elevated until the baby is about six months old. Around this time they start to eat solid foods, so their demand for breast milk will slowly start to taper off, which is why this hormonal change happens.
What can I do to manage postpartum hormonal changes?
Focus on Your Diet
One of the most effective ways to get through rising and falling hormones during the postpartum period is to focus on eating a nutritious diet. Adding in plenty of healthy fats and proteins as well as fruits and vegetables will not only help your energy and mood, but can set your body up as well as possible to produce the hormones you need.
Accept Any Help You Can
As much as hearing it is probably exasperating, reducing your stress levels and getting plenty of sleep and gentle exercise will do wonders for how you feel as you recover from birth. Obviously, with a new baby, that’s much, much easier said than done! As a result, one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health is to get help.
From your partner to friends and family members to professional services if you can afford them, there are plenty of ways for you to get the assistance you need so that you can care for yourself and your baby as efficiently as possible. Let loved ones cook you meals or come clean the house and do laundry! Split nighttime feedings and diaper changes as evenly as possible with your partner, and enlist them to hold the baby while you take a shower and have some time to yourself. Any way you can find to focus on your own wellbeing in addition to your baby’s will help you to feel better as you ride out these hormonal changes.
Speak to Your Doctor
When all else fails, difficulty with hormone levels during your postpartum period is definitely something you should speak to your doctor about. They can help you with any concerns about your health, so make sure to prioritize yourself and make an appointment if you feel like you need it!