Pregnancy & Postpartum Hormones Guide

When it comes to pregnancy, one would think that there is not much we don’t know about at this point. It appears to be something that is so incredibly “routine” that we think the medical world has exhausted all of its studies and work surrounding it. However, that is not the case and that is because despite it being “common,” it is something so complex.

When we stop to think about everything that goes into play when it comes to creating a new life and growing it, there are so many elements that have to work together. The human body is amazing, and pregnancy is just one proof of that.


One of the biggest factors in pregnancy is hormones. Hormones play a role in conception, pregnancy, and postpartum, yet they are not widely understood. In fact, almost every side effect and impact that pregnancy has on women can be “blamed” on hormones.

To get a clearer understanding of the role of hormones during the whole journey from conception to the moment that baby is in a mom’s arms, we need to look at hormones and the role they play.

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What Are Hormones?

Hormones can sometimes be taken for granted because everyone just knows that men and women carry them, and they play a role in our well-being, physically and mentally. However, if we stop and look at what hormones are, it can help give us a basic understanding of their function.

According to Medline Plus, hormones are known as the body’s “chemical messengers.” They travel through the bloodstream to tissues and organs, and they have a lot of different jobs to do. They are made by the Endocrine glands, which are a group of cells. Hormones are responsible for the growth and development of humans, metabolism, a person’s mental health, and reproductive health.

Conception: Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)

According to What To Expect, the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is made by the pituitary gland in the brain, and it is what tells the female body to make eggs and estrogen. This is the hormone that is responsible for controlling a woman’s menstruation cycle, and it is imperative to conceive since an egg has to be made and produced in order to successfully conceive a baby. The rise in estrogen will also encourage the LH hormone.

Conception: Luteinizing Hormone (LH)

The luteinizing hormone is the hormone that surges in a woman’s body right before her body releases an egg. This is the hormone that an ovulation test is trying to detect. The levels of this hormone will rise just before an egg is released and this is what triggers the egg to leave the ovaries. This is a common hormone that is looked at by fertility clinics if a woman is having a hard time getting pregnant.

Conception: Human Chorionic Honadotropin (hCG)

HCG is one of the most common hormones that are associated with pregnancy, and this is the hormone that is going to give a couple two lines on a pregnancy test. This hormone is only produced during pregnancy. Women will have a resting level of hCG in their system, but it is not high enough to be detected unless they are pregnant. This hormone will rise and double in early pregnancy, and it is the reason a lot of women experience morning sickness. The hormone stabilizes by the third month.

Pregnancy: Estrogen

Estrogen is a hormone that is carried by all females, and while it has many roles, it is essential in pregnancy. According to Pampers, this hormone will surge in the first trimester of pregnancy, and it is what encourages the growth of the placenta, a vital organ for pregnancy. This hormone is also to blame for morning sickness and mood swings, but it is essential.

Pregnancy: Progesterone

Progesterone is always found in a woman, but it will also increase in the first trimester. This hormone is responsible or building the lining of the uterus and increasing the blood flow to the pelvic area and breasts. It is essential for a healthy pregnancy, and something else that may be tracked if a woman has a hard time maintaining a pregnancy. Progesterone is responsible for fatigue, pregnancy glow, and mood swings.

Pregnancy: Relaxing

Relaxin is a hormone that will be activated near the end of a pregnancy when everything is getting a bit uncomfortable. This hormone works just like it sounds, which is by relaxing and preparing a woman’s ligaments for labor. This is what causes some of the pelvic pain that women will experience near the end of their pregnancy, and it is also responsible for dilation that happens during labour.

Postpartum: Oxytocin

While this hormone surges near the end of pregnancy, it is seen most immediately following childbirth. According to Parents, this hormone surges immediately following birth because progesterone and estrogen immediately start to decrease once the placenta has been delivered. This hormone is responsible for the bonding between mom and baby. It is also why a lot of moms feel that strong maternal instinct once they are holding their baby.

While this hormone makes you feel really nice and warm, it will start to decrease in the days following childbirth, and this is why women get the “baby blues.”

Postpartum: Prolactin

Prolactin is another hormone that can be found in the third trimester, but it is seen surging when the baby is born. This hormone is responsible for the stimulation and production of breast milk. This is what helps a mom produce breast milk for her baby, and makes sure that she can make enough. It will continue to surge throughout mom’s breastfeeding journey.

When Do Hormones Regulate?

It is normal to expect it to take some time for a woman to heal after giving birth, and a lot of the focus is put on physical healing. However, it cannot be overlooked that there is some hormonal “healing” that has to take place. It takes time for hormones to regulate once giving birth, and while they don’t all disappear, some need time to get back to a standard or normal amount.

According to Copperstate OB/GYN, mom can expect a full return to baseline when she is 6 months postpartum. The hormones start to regulate around the 3-month mark, but they take a little longer to completely settle down.

However, at this time, due to sleep deprivation and life as a new mom, she may experience a spike in cortisol which is the ‘stress hormone.’ Hormones are a fascinating subject, and it really is amazing to think of all the things they do for our bodies.

Sources: Medline Plus, What To Expect, Pampers, Parents, Copperstate OB/GYN

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