Estrogen and progesterone are two of the most important pregnancy hormones. Read more about them in Part 2 of the pregnancy hormones guide.
Estrogen is released in higher amounts in women than men. The surge starts at puberty when your breasts grow and periods start.
Estrogen intensifies gradually throughout the pregnancy in line with the growth of the fetus.
- It’s secreted by the corpus luteum until the placenta is fully developed to secrete it by itself which happens at around 12th week of pregnancy.
- Estrogen is responsible for stimulating the growth of uterus. It improves the blood flow between uterus and placenta by enhancing the production of nitric oxide (a gas responsible for the widening of blood vessels). It also plays a major role in maintaining the strength and thickness of the vaginal wall and also the urethra lining + vaginal lubrication. The rapid cutback in estrogen after delivery is responsible for vaginal dryness making postpartum sex less enjoyable.
- Estrogen is also responsible for your tender and sensitive breasts in the first trimester. This symptom will fade out as you transition into the second trimester.
- During the second trimester, it’s responsible for increasing your breast size and preparing them to store bountiful of milk coming all the way to nourish the baby.
- Estrogen helps fetus develop adrenal gland and hormone production. It’s also responsible for developing those tiny organs which you might be able to get a peek of in the second trimester. Estrogen is responsible for bone formation working alongside calcium, Vitamin D, and other hormones to effectively break down and rebuild bones according to body’s natural process. During pregnancy, estrogen role in bone formation augments as now it has to form new bones for the fetus. It also regulates the bone density between arms and legs. So basically estrogen transforms that tiny fetus into a human baby.
P.S.- It’s essential to have at least 1000 mg of Calcium each day.
- It is responsible for the extra sense of smell. This is the time when some foods would make you feel completely repulsive and nauseated while the others would never be enough for you to gorge upon. Morning sickness is worsened by this extra sensitivity since the smell of some foods would make you want to puke. Estrogen basically increases blood flow to the mucous membrane and you might feel like your nose size has increased (a surprisingly noticeable feature of your face). Blood flow would cause the nose to swell and itch. Other common after effects are postnasal drips, headache, stuffy nose, and sinus congestion.
P.S.- Consult your doctor if you already have sinus.
- This extra blood flow occurs not only to your nose but to other parts of the body as well. It gets transferred to the palms of your hands and feet. Swelling in these areas is a very common symptom of pregnancy. Varicose veins are a side effect of this prolific blood flow. Varicose veins are considered to be a very serious condition so do visit your OB/GYN as soon as you notice spider types of veins in your legs.
- This spidery blue network of veins can also appear on your chest. This is, however, normal since breast engorgement can cause the veins to dilate themselves.
- Estrogen is linked to building collagen and plays a major role in the development of hair shaft. Pregnancy glow and luscious locks are the instigations of estrogen. Estrogen drops as soon as you deliver which causes more hair to appear on the drain and your brush during postpartum. Even though for some women the hair fall stops after reaching the pre-postpartum hair thickness, for others it might continue after that. To control it you might want to include some foods which boost estrogen naturally which includes soybeans, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, dry fruits, chickpeas, beans, and legumes. The above-mentioned foods are rated high in their estrogen and phytoestrogen content.
- Estrogen along with progesterone is responsible for melasma or mask of pregnancy. It is basically skin discoloration or formation of dark patches on your face mainly your forehead and cheeks. They might not be as bad as you would have already imagined till now. Small pigmentation marks can be removed by using some home DIY lightening treatments like lemon and honey or oats and milk. It will go away gradually during postpartum.
Read here on how to tackle pigmentation and hair fall: MEET THE SLAYERS OF YOUR PREGGO-GLOW – PART 2 – PIGMENTATION & HAIRFALL
- Estrogen is the key hormone working to develop ducts for the milk supply. It also contributes towards connective tissue growth and fat deposition. It is also indirectly involved in the lobuloalveolar component (mammary development during pregnancy). By increasing progesterone receptor expression in the breasts and by inducing the secretion of prolactin, estrogen completes the process of breast milk production in mammals.
- Parturition is the delivery of both child and placenta from the uterus to the vagina and then to the outside world. Estrogen’s role during labor is to induce the myometrium, smooth muscle wall surrounding uterus that is responsible for contractions. As the childbirth nears estrogen is engaged in the synthesis of gap junctions between myometrial cells to stimulate massive, coordinated contractions of labor.
- Prostaglandins are another set of hormones which are synthesized before labor by the chemical reaction triggered by estrogen. Prostaglandins are formed when ur body needs to deal with injury, illness or inflammation. When in labor prostaglandins initiates the breakdown of cervical connective tissues allowing it to become soft and flexible, stimulates myometrial contractions and participate in the healing process of the vagina.
- Oxytocin, which is known as the strongest stimulator of uterine contractions incites labor in humans. Estrogen increases responsiveness to oxytocin to initiate labor and developing the magical mother-baby bond.
Progesterone is released along with estrogen by the cycle triggered by HCG during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy after which the placenta takes over. Levels of this hormone increase with gestational growth and age of your fetus.
Normal progesterone levels are 1-28 ng/ml (fluctuates according to menstrual cycle), 9-47 ng/ml during the first trimester, 17-146 ng/ml in the second trimester, 49-300 ng/ml when you reach your final trimester.
Low progesterone levels are associated with miscarriage and preterm birth.
- At the start of pregnancy, progesterone is responsible for decreasing the immunity of mother to facilitate gestation and implantation.
- Progesterone is also linked with PMS. Yes, you guessed it right. Emotional mood swings during pregnancy and postpartum including anxiety, depression etc. are linked with changing progesterone levels. With the help of estrogen, which is known to accentuate your response to emotions, progesterone can make you experience a whole range of emotional change in just a matter of seconds.
- Progesterone plays a very important role of relaxing the uterus muscles and also of the hips and thighs to support and expand the tissues and ligaments to make space for the baby. The downside of smooth muscles is dizziness, fatigue and feeling low in energy especially in the first trimester. In the first 3 months, progesterone increases but the fetal size isn’t much which causes more downside effects of this hormone prominent than in rest of trimesters. Feeling tired all the time in the first trimester is the blame taken by progesterone.
In last two trimesters, with the help of relaxin, progesterone is responsible for meddling with your stomach muscles leading to indigestion, constipation, and heartburn. Lax muscles in the lower intestine are responsible for bloating and gas. So next time anyone complains about gas tell them,”It’s not me, it’s progesterone.”
- Progesterone keeps the placenta functioning properly and also maintains the lining of the uterus by supplying it with enough blood to nourish the baby and placenta.
- Softened muscles in mouth lead to swollen and bleeding gums which in turn transforms into the tent house of bad bacteria. Pregnant women are 10% more likely to get cavities. Do visit your dentist for appropriate recommendations and prescriptions.
- Increase in sexual energy during pregnancy is also because of progesterone. Telling your husband this might save you from all the irritation and scare he has developed for the hormones. 😛
- Progesterone causes a tranquilizing effect on your brain which might release the stress of childbirth and aid sleep.
- Progesterone is responsible for triggering the sebaceous gland and causing acne. This happens even during puberty (progesterone and estrogen increase to aid menstrual cycle) when most of experience acne and pimples on our face. It also triggers extra hair growth on unwanted areas such as breasts and lower abdomen.
- While estrogen is responsible for the ductal development, progesterone is responsible for maturation of mammary glands and milk production during postpartum.
- Progesterone prevents contractions during pregnancy so as soon as the labor kicks in the levels of this hormone falls. As the baby grows and is almost ready to come out, the uterus comes under stress due to pushing. This causes the release of stress hormones in your body called CRH and cortisol which in turn produces estriol, a type of estrogen that inhibits the synthesis of progesterone. The decrease in progesterone is important to ease labor and contractions.
Estrogen and progesterone are responsible for a lot during pregnancy. Don’t forget to read about the last set of hormones – oxytocin, relaxin and prolactin here.