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How pregnancy hormones work
 
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Physical changes due to pregnancy hormones

Hormones change every detail of the body during pregnancy. If you pay attention to all these details, you will be able to better understand what is happening in your body during this time.

Hormones and body changes
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During the first trimester, the placenta produces a large quantity of hormones to nourish the mother and the baby’s metabolism. The baby cannot yet secrete the substances required for its own development and therefore cannot yet support its most vital needs.

These increases in hormone levels have some advantages and some less pleasant disadvantages.

Hormonally induced physical changes

  • From the 8th week of pregnancy, the areola around nipples can become covered in bumps. There’s no need to worry, this is just an additional effect of the changes to your metabolism. Despite their dainty name – Montgomery tubercles – these changes are harmless. They occur because of the increase in glandular activity, making the nipples softer to help baby suck.
  • Your skin also becomes darker. The appearance of freckles or other marks on the skin are another consequence of hormonal changes.
  • The same goes for scars, the vulva or the dark line between your navel and pubis. Extra hormone levels increase melanin levels, a substance which pigments skin and gives it its colour, in addition to protecting it from external attacks. This causes changes to skin pigmentation. The pituitary gland seems to be responsible for increasing melanin levels and changes to skin pigmentation.
  • A pregnant woman will also have to adopt new positions for resting and relieving physical pain during pregnancy. Digestive problems can also add to these changes. Pregnancy hormones cause the abdominal and intestinal walls to distend, slowing down the digestive process and making it less efficient. 
  • Although not a generalised complaint, a pregnant woman may suffer from bleeding gums or nasal congestion.  This is due to the increase in blood volume and the effect of oestrogens which causes peripheral blood vessels and nasal membranes to enlarge. 
  • The changes caused by hormones can also increase body hair. This is a good thing for the hair on your head, making it stronger and thicker during pregnancy. In certain cases, hair can sometimes be greasier. You should not worry if, after pregnancy, you suffer from hair loss when hormonal levels reduce. Many women get quite anxious about this and some even panic. Try and stay calm: specialists assure us that this accelerated hair loss is completely normal and hair grows back as before in a few months.

Precautions in relation to hormonal changes

“Hormone overload” during pregnancy means you need to pay extra careful attention to the effects of the sun. This is because the rapid surge of certain hormones (like oestrogen) during this time has an influence on skin balance. If you add prolonged sun exposure to high oestrogen levels, skin marks can rapidly appear. These are called chloasma or melasma (that famous “pregnancy mask”), which covers cheeks, nose and chin in a butterfly-shaped formation. 

The pregnancy mask normally disappears after pregnancy, but it can remain – particularly in darker-skinned women. These days, treatments like laser peeling can get rid of unattractive marks, but should only be performed after the birth. Studies have shown that some substances interfere with the baby’s development.

An effective way to prevent these marks is to avoid direct or excessive exposure to the sun and use high protection sun creams. Consult a good dermatologist to find out which sun protection is best suited to your skin type. 

Hormones keep on changing even after the birth

For 9 months your body has produced huge amounts of hormones, but what happens once your baby is born? Three days after the birth, oestrogen and progesterone levels drop abruptly, which can trigger those infamous “baby blues”. The new mother can feel very low (emotionally fragile, tears, etc.).

Physically, the areola around the nipple can become darker than before. In some women, the areola can increase in size, covering up to half of the breast. This is called a secondary areola and can last up to twelve months after pregnancy before disappearing for good.

To be completely fair though, while we may deplore the side effects of hormones during pregnancy, they are also responsible for making a future mother look so radiant after the first three months of pregnancy!

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Posted 15.04.2011

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