What are the long-term effects of pregnancy on your hormones? (Part 2 of 2)
How pregnancy impacts your thyroid health, your periods, and – you guessed it – your sex drive..
Welcome to Part 2 of our two-part series: “What are the long-term effects of pregnancy on your hormones?”
Last post, we talked about how pregnancy and its unique hormonal cocktail affects your memory, hair, sex organs, and cancer risk, particularly after you give birth. This is a time in a woman’s life when hormonal changes are off the charts, so changes are to be expected – but empowered with knowledge, you can prepare for the changes to come.
Now we’ve come to the part of our series where we discuss how pregnancy hormones, and the postpartum hormonal readjustment that follows, creates big change in other areas of your body: your thyroid, your periods, and your sex drive. Read on to find out what’s going on with your inner chemistry, and what you can expect after you have a baby.
YOUR SEX DRIVE
Let’s just get this out of the way: if you have zero desire to be sexual after giving birth, you’re not alone!
So what exactly is going on here? Well, a few things. First of all, your estrogen levels are dropping sharply. According to Madeleine Castellanos, M.D., board-certified psychiatrist at Long Island Jewish Hospital, “your body pumps up the estrogen during your pregnancy to create the best environment for your growing baby—and it drops in the months and weeks after you give birth. When you add to these biological factors the realities of less time, less sleep, and snuggly babies in the bed, it can make it practically impossible to have any semblance of a normal sex life with your husband.”
What can you do to restore your estrogen levels? Dr. Castellanos notes that in those sleep-deprived weeks and days following the arrival of a baby, it’s easy to reach for caffeine, added sugar or carb-loaded snacks for energy, but “these just keep hormones at low levels without giving your body the nutrition it needs,” she says. Instead, she advises filling your plate with lots of lean proteins, beans, nuts, and healthy fats (like avocado or coconut oil) to help restore hormonal balance, while supplementing with zinc, selenium, and B vitamins will also help you bounce back faster.
But there’s another thing going on with your sex drive during this time, and that is breastfeeding. If you nurse your baby, your body is producing a hormone called prolactin – which suppresses sex drive – and you’re also producing less testosterone, one of your major sex drive hormones. This is because nursing keeps ovulation at bay, which is nature’s clever way of protecting your baby, by making sure you don’t get pregnant again too soon. (Note, though: it’s still totally possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding, so don’t rely on it for contraception. Use a backup.)
So, can you get your desire back during breastfeeding? Yes, but it might be a gradual onset. Physical exercise will create higher levels 214=]=[of testosterone in your body, and give you a much-needed energy boost. But as you start ovulating again, you should notice an increase in your sex drive, and by the time your baby has weaned, things in that department should be back to normal.
On that note, let’s talk about your period after pregnancy.
After their first baby, many new moms are surprised to realize that they still don’t have a period for several months. But this is normal: as we noted above, your body suppresses ovulation while nursing, to keep your focused on your brand new child.
But, what if it’s been several months, and your period isn’t back yet, or seems super irregular? Here’s what’s to expect:
- Most breastfeeding mothers will resume their periods between 9 and 18 months after their baby’s birth. When you stop nursing, you will see – fairly quickly – your menstrual cycle return.
- Women who don’t breastfeed typically find that their period returns four to eight weeks after childbirth.
- Your uterus grows during pregnancy; then it shrinks after delivery. And the endometrial lining—what is shed during a period—has to remodel itself as it goes through these changes. As a result, your period may “act” differently than it did before you were pregnant, and be heavier, lighter, longer, or shorter – and that’s all OK, all normal.
- According to Angela Jones, M.D., an ob-gyn in Freehold, New Jersey, you can expect some heavier bleeding and increased cramping with your initial post-baby period. But if you need to change your tampon or pad every hour or more frequently, alert your doctor: It could signal an infection, fibroids, or polyps.
Long story short? Just like your sex drive, you can expect some changes to your period in the initial weeks and months following pregnancy. But as your hormones balance, so will your menstruation. These changes aren’t permanent, but if you suspect something abnormal – like super heavy bleeding – talk to your ob-gyn. There might be more going on here than hormone changes.
Did you know that while you’re pregnant, your thyroid plays a critical role for your baby? These hormones are delivered through the placenta during the first trimester and into the second, supporting your baby’s developing brain and nervous system. This is one reason your thyroid actually enlarges slightly during pregnancy.
So your thyroid undergoes changes – but – what are the odds of you experiencing thyroid problems after baby?
According to research from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 1 in 20 women will develop postpartum thyroiditis – an inflammation of the thyroid – during the first year after giving birth. (And, it’s more common in women with type 1 diabetes).
“The inflammation causes stored thyroid hormone to leak out of your thyroid gland,” reports their findings. “At first, the leakage raises the hormone levels in your blood, leading to hyperthyroidism. The hyperthyroidism may last up to 3 months. After that, some damage to your thyroid may cause it to become underactive. Your hypothyroidism may last up to a year after your baby is born. However, in some women, hypothyroidism doesn’t go away.”
So, that’s the bad news. The good news? The symptoms are usually mild: irritability, trouble dealing with heat, tiredness, trouble sleeping, and a slightly faster than usual heartbeat. And the hyperthyroid stage of postpartum thyroiditis rarely needs treatment. The hypothyroid stage, though, is where you might experience stronger symptoms, like dry skin; trouble concentrating; and tingling in your hands, arms, feet, or legs. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
If you want to ensure thyroid health after baby, here again, diet and proper supplementation can be a big help. You need iodine to make thyroid hormone, so to balance its function, eating good sources of iodine like dairy foods, seafood, eggs, meat, poultry, and iodized salt—salt with added iodine – can help. And if you suspect you might have thyroid problems, and want to learn how your hormonal system affects its function, you can find out here.
Here’s to healthy hormone levels after baby!
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