Hormones, Pregnancy, Postpartum, and the Baby Blues
by Debbie Rice, ND, MPH
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 in 8 women each year in the US experience symptoms of postpartum depression (PPD), also commonly referred to as the “baby blues.” The real number of those affected may be even higher.
Symptoms of PPD can range from sadness and mood swings to irritability, sleep changes, and excessive worry or lack of interest in day-to-day life, including her baby. For many women, these symptoms last only a few days, with the majority feeling better within a week or two of becoming a new mother. For others, the situation may be more severe, and the symptoms can last much longer.
What causes the baby blues?
No one knows for sure why some women have postpartum depression, but it is commonly thought hormonal changes in a woman’s body may trigger its symptoms. During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone increase significantly. Then, in the first 24 hours after childbirth, estrogen and progesterone levels drop rapidly and continue decreasing to the levels they were before pregnancy. Researchers surmise these changes in hormones may lead to depression, just as smaller changes in hormones can affect a woman’s mood before her period.
Estrogen and progesterone are both produced in the ovaries (corpus luteum) and the placenta during pregnancy. Progesterone levels rise significantly in the beginning of pregnancy to prepare the endometrium and its vessels to 'feed' the growing fetus and to prohibit uterine muscle contractions to prevent preterm childbirth. Estrogen levels increase during pregnancy and are highest before labor.
Estrogen dominance and adrenal dysfunction are important factors to consider when investigating the cause of PPD. Studies examining cortisol in new mothers found that women with higher levels of cortisol during postpartum are more attracted to their babies’ scent and more attentive to them. These behaviors have also been associated with a stronger mother-infant bond. However, if adrenal dysfunction is present, these bonding behaviors may suffer. In addition, estrogen dominance and adrenal dysfunction could be interlinked and may have many of the same symptoms: fatigue, weight gain, and irritability.
If your postpartum patients are experiencing PPD, evaluating their hormones and daily free cortisol is highly recommended. Consider having them test with the DUTCH Complete™, DUTCH Plus®, or Cycle Mapping™ Plus to see where their hormone levels are, and prescribe a custom treatment plan to get their bodies and moods back to optimum health.
Want more information about hormones, pregnancy, and postpartum depression? Watch this complimentary DUTCH webinar on the same subject here!