Your body undergoes a lot of changes in preparation for childbirth. During pregnancy, hormones rise and fall, affecting your physical and emotional state.
After delivery, you might still feel emotional, irritable, sensitive … the list goes on and on. While some new parents talk about the joys of parenting, you may feel like you’ve got a case of the baby blues.
The good news is that the postpartum emotional rollercoaster is totally normal and largely due to hormonal shifts. But just how long will it take your hormones to settle down after childbirth? What are the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance? And what can you do to finally get off this rollercoaster?
The lasting effects of numerous hormones may impact your day-to-day activities.
Estrogen and progesterone play the most pivotal role of all. During pregnancy, they support the growing fetus and your rapidly changing body.
When you’re expecting, progesterone levels rise significantly early on, preparing the endometrium and its vessels to provide nutrients to the fetus. Progesterone also blocks uterine contractions to prevent preterm birth.
Prolactin stimulates milk production, and it remains in the body for as long as you are breastfeeding. It influences behavior, metabolism, immune system functioning, and fluid regulation. Prolactin is one possible explanation for occasional postpartum mood swings.
Oxytocin is another hormone that’s important for labor and breastfeeding. It starts the uterine muscle contractions for delivery, then moves milk into the breasts when it’s time to nurse.
Research from several studies has shown that oxytocin also impacts social behavior. Specifically, oxytocin helps you stay tuned in and respond to important signs in your environment. For example, oxytocin may promote feelings of trust and bonding (such as mother–infant bonding or intimate connection) or contrary reactions such as defensiveness.
Relaxin is secreted by the ovaries, placenta, and uterine lining throughout pregnancy. In the first and second trimesters, it inhibits muscle contractions, preventing premature labor. Later, it promotes the rupture of membranes surrounding the fetus before softening the cervix and vagina and loosening pelvic ligaments to ease delivery.
Consequently, you’re more prone to spraining or overstretching muscles during physical activity when you’re pregnant, jeopardizing joint health. It could take another five months after having the baby for relaxin levels to stabilize.
Despite the fact that everyone produces these same hormones during and after pregnancy, not everyone has the same emotional experience. This suggests the presence of other intervening factors besides hormonal activity in the onset of postpartum depression.
Thyroid hormone levels can change after giving birth, and there are several possible causes.
The thyroid might react to bouts of inflammation (i.e., thyroiditis) by releasing extra hormones and presenting the following symptoms:
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased sensitivity to heat
Over time, thyroid cells can become impaired, resulting in hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid gland. Poor thyroid function tends to cause:
- Intolerance to cold
- Weight gain (increased appetite)
- Hypoactivity (less than normally active)
- Proximal muscle weakness
- Myxedema (i.e., facial/periorbital swelling)
- Dry skin that’s cool to the touch
- Brittle hair
- Slow heart rate
- Difficulty breathing on exertion
Postpartum thyroiditis can last up to 18 months, so it’s a good idea to consult with your health care provider if you spot any of these symptoms.
Postpartum hormonal shifts can leave many new parents feeling down and not like their usual selves. Mood swings, poor sleep, lack of appetite, depression and anxiety, as well as irresistible urges to cry, might all become commonplace. Fortunately, baby blues tend to subside after a week or two. When these feelings don’t go away or get worse, they may indicate postpartum depression. Warning signs of postpartum depression include:
- Loss of interest in the newborn
- Feelings of hopelessness
- A constant urge to cry
- An inability to cope or take pleasure in things
- Loss of memory and concentration skills
- Excessive anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Sleeplessness and extreme fatigue
- Aches and pains
- Feeling generally unwell
- Decreased appetite
Postpartum depression is a serious condition that should not go untreated. If you observe any of the above symptoms, it’s important to contact your health care provider immediately.
There are several options available to relieve symptoms if you’re experiencing a hormonal imbalance after childbirth.
Symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, and mood swings might have a fairly straightforward solution:
- Try asking friends and family members for help with childcare or household chores. Having someone cook a meal or tidy up can free up some time for a bit of rest and rejuvenation.
- Take a soothing bath, go for a walk outside, or engage in light exercise to reduce stress. Make time for a date night, or plan a social outing with friends.
- Eat well, and practice good sleep habits.
Your health care provider might also recommend certain remedies for persistent baby blues.
The question almost every new parent asks is, “when will I feel like myself again?” Though this varies greatly from one person to the next, typically, symptoms related to hormonal imbalance should get better about six to eight weeks after delivery. By contrast, the hormone-linked side effects of breastfeeding will remain for as long as you’re nursing.
Experiencing post-delivery baby blues is perfectly normal, as long as these feelings resolve themselves within a relatively short period. However, if serious symptoms of postpartum depression appear and are preventing you from enjoying time with your newborn, please consult a professional. Ask them about potential treatment options and find out the proper steps to take when experiencing postpartum depression.