Postpartum brings on immediate changes to your hormones. This affects both
your body and your emotions. Combine it with sleep loss and the impossible
expectations depicted in our media and society, and you've got a formula
for a tough transition. It can be complicated, intense, and intimidating.
If you're feeling this way, we want you to know that you're not alone!
Today we will run through some common postpartum hormone changes.
Six months after giving birth is a fair approximation for when the hormones
will return to normal in mom’s who are still nursing or regularly pumping
If you have transitioned to formula feeding this may occur earlier, around
2 or 3 months after delivery.
Six months is also when most women who are exclusively breastfeeding
experience their first postpartum period (3 months for formula feeding),
which is no coincidence. Postpartum hormone fluctuations which regulate your cycle, return to pre-pregnancy levels at
All of the above hormones change in the postpartum period.
It’s good to be prepared and aware of what roles these hormonal
fluctuations play in your emotional and physical postpartum journey.
Let’s review some basics of each.
Oxytocin (AKA the “love hormone”)
Oxytocin is the hormone that is active in intimacy, fertility, labor and
milk let down during breastfeeding. You know that tingly feeling in your
breasts when it’s time to nurse and you see, smell or hear your baby….it’s
oxytocin! That desire to cuddle with your partner after the “Big O”…yup
This hormone helps induce a state of calm, enhances loving emotions and
behaviors and promotes bonding. So aptly dubbed the “love hormone”.
Try these activities to increase your “love hormone”:
Hugs and Cuddles: You may not be ready to have sex but keep
hugging, cuddling and holding hands with your partner.
Breastfeeding: But don’t worry, if you choose not to, you can still
get the benefit from doing some skin-to-skin time with your baby!
Music: Studies show that listening to music increases oxytocin. So
play some jazz, classical or whatever gets you to that feeling of
Endorphins (AKA “feel good” hormone)
Endorphins are hormones that the body releases to ease discomfort and pain.
Post-birth, high endorphin levels will leave you feeling alert, focused,
and euphoric. Endorphins help reinforce the mother-baby bond right after
delivery and a drop in endorphins during this time can contribute to
postpartum blues or depression.
Thing you can do to increase endorphins postpartum:
Laugh: yes, laughter is the best medicine. As you and your partner
figure out how to be parents, find the humor in the process.
Aromatherapy: Some studies show that essential oils such as
lavender, rosemary, citrus and frankincense can increase
endorphins. So set the mood when you get home!
Sunlight: Getting some sun can help enhance your “feel good”
hormone along with added benefit of Vitamin D!
Adrenaline (AKA “flight or fight” hormone)
Adrenaline is a chemical emitted into the body of someone experiencing
intense feelings, causing the person to have more energy. Adrenaline is the
"fight or flight" hormone produced by women to assist in survival. Women
who feel threatened during their postpartum period may release a lot of
adrenaline. Adrenaline may be especially increased in the first 3 months
after delivery as you are getting used to sleep irregularities.
You can hold the adrenaline levels down during postpartum by doing the
Meditation: This and other quick mindfulness exercises can help
decrease this hormone.
Walking: Taking even a quick 15-minute walk helps with burning off
this extra energy
Massage: In some cultures, postpartum mommy massage is an integral
part of the after-delivery healing process for moms.
Prolactin (AKA the “mothering” hormone)
Prolactin levels in nursing mothers increase by around 50% within the first
week after birth because it is in charge of producing milk. It will return
to pre-pregnancy levels seven days after birth if you are not pumping or
This happens because when you pump or the baby nurses, the nerves in your
breasts transmit a signal to your brain, allowing the hormones oxytocin and
prolactin to be released. Prolactin instructs the milk glands in your
breasts to produce more breast milk. (Remember- oxytocin helps with milk
let down from the ducts).
This “mothering” hormone will give deep feelings of attachment, calm, and
rushes of contentment or euphoria in addition to producing more milk!
Tips to increase the “mothering” hormone:
Pump/ nurse: The more frequent the more increases in prolactin
Diet: Certain foods/spices may increase prolactin level: garlic,
fennel , fenugreek are just a few.
Minimize stress: It’s hard when you have a hungry crying baby and
difficulty latching. STOP, take a few deep breaths, and start
Estrogen and progesterone (AKA the “pregnancy” hormones)
As soon as the placenta is out, the big source of these hormones, there is
a sharp decrease in estrogen and progesterone. In the first 24 hour after
delivery the levels go down to pre pregnancy amount.
This is like the drop during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle right
before your period but more drastic! So, if you are sensitive to hormonal
changes during your period, you may also be after delivery.
This may contribute to symptoms of postpartum blues or perinatal mood and
anxiety disorders (PMAD).
Things to do to minimize effects of the “pregnancy hormone” drop:
Have support: Friends, family, partners or a baby nurse (especially
if you have risk factors for postpartum blues or PMADs) can support
you and keep you from feeling overwhelmed as you adjust to this
Sleep: Sleep when baby sleeps to help your body and mind heal and
adjust to this new role.
Educate yourself: Both you and your partner can become aware of how
common postpartum blues and PMADs are and signs and symptoms.
Journaling can provide both an outlet and tool to discover your
feelings during this time.
This was just an overview and some quick tips to help you adjust during
this transition time. Some of these hormonal changes can last well into the
first year postpartum .
The hormonal changes, transitioning to a new role, sense of loss of your
prior self, change in your relationship, lack of sleep, nervousness of
taking care of a little human…these can be experienced by all mothers.
You are not alone so talk to a new mom and share your experiences!