hormones and pregnancy

What are the long-term effects of pregnancy on your hormones? (Part 1 of 2)

Here’s how your brain and body changes.

 

From brain structure to memory, skin to hair, and cancer risk to dental health, your body undergoes some massive changes when you’re pregnant. That’s because you experience hormonal surges and drops like you never have before. But, don’t worry! When we say “change,” we don’t mean “permanent deterioration.” Your body is in flux, and that’s a normal, healthy thing.

Some of these changes aren’t permanent, or even that long-term – right after giving birth, your sex drive will take a dip, but it won’t be suppressed forever. (Breastfeeding has a lot to do with that.) So here’s what you can expect from a hormonal perspective.

YOUR MEMORY MIGHT NOT BE AS GREAT (FOR A LITTLE WHILE)

Elevated hormones during pregnancy might cause a bit of brain fogginess – but hey, maybe evolution is just trying to help us out. (Memories of painful childbirth = gone!)

LiveScience talks about a study from University of Bradford and Bradford Institute for Health Research in England showing this decreased memory effect, which is just one study, but still interesting:

“The researchers…measured the levels of a set of sex hormones in the pregnant women and had them fill out a questionnaire to judge their mood and level of anxiety. The results for the 23 pregnant women in the study were compared with 24 non-pregnant women.

During their second and third trimesters, the pregnant women performed significantly worse than the non-pregnant women on spatial memory tests, the study found. The memory effect still held at three months after birth.”

The article also notes that “if sex hormones are behind the memory deficit, the lack of rebound after three months could simply be because it takes the brain awhile longer to recover from the elevated hormone levels.” So if you can’t find the keys for the 86th time…don’t worry. Your mental rolodex will sharpen, it just takes time, and soon you’ll be remembering where the keys are / where your baby’s favorite lovey is at all times / what time the cable guy PROMISED he would be there / all kinds of things.  

YOUR PRIVATE PARTS (AND OTHER THINGS) COULD GET DARKER

So you’re naked in the mirror, and some parts look like a different color…is it just your vision playing tricks on you? Maybe not. This one is all about estrogen.

“The usual color of your areola and nipples may morph to a darker shade during pregnancy, then stay that way after you have a baby. This can also happen for your labia and even some moles on your body,” says an interview with Maureen Whelihan, M.D., an ob/gyn at the Center for Sexual Health & Education with SELF Magazine. And it’s caused by your pregnant self’s high levels of estrogen, which along with progesterone, causes your body to produce higher levels of pigment. All normal, and all beautiful.

YOUR HAIR IS, TEMPORARILY, LESS AWESOME

Did you grow yourself some gorgeous locks during pregnancy? Don’t get attached. You hair and nails tend to grow well during pregnancy, but falling hormone levels after childbirth can cause you to (temporarily) lose your hair. As a result, it can feel limp and lifeless.

So if your hair is falling out in the shower at an alarming rate – don’t panic! Your hair situation should improve about a  year postpartum. And it definitely helps to understand what’s going on: women start experiencing pregnancy-induced hair growth in the first trimester when the levels of androgen in their body increases. Hair usually feels fuller and thicker than before because of relatively no hair fall during this period. Also, higher levels of progesterone make your latent hair follicles come alive, prolonging the hair growth phase and bequeathing you those gloriously thicker tresses. That sharp drop-off in pregnancy hormones might make your hair feel like it’s falling FAST, but things will level out within the year. (And, you can supplement to increase your progesterone levels, naturally.)

YOU MIGHT BE AT A DECREASED RISK FOR BREAST CANCER

Hey look, good news!

But first, know this: the area of research examining pregnancy hormone and cancer risks is nascent, and developing. So take this information from Cancer.gov with the knowledge that scientists are still looking at this link, which means you probably don’t have to take it as gospel quite yet. That being said, here are some intriguing findings:

“Some pregnancy-related factors have been associated with a reduced risk of developing breast cancer later in life. These factors include:

Early age at first full-term pregnancy. Women who have their first full-term pregnancy at an early age have a decreased risk of developing breast cancer later in life. For example, in women who have a first full-term pregnancy before age 20, the risk of developing breast cancer is about half that of women whose first full-term pregnancy occurs after the age of 30 (4). This risk reduction is limited to hormone receptor–positive breast cancer; age at first full-term pregnancy does not appear to affect the risk of hormone receptor-negative breast cancer.

Longer duration of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding for an extended period (at least a year) is associated with decreased risks of both hormone receptor–positive and hormone receptor–negative breast cancers.”

And here’s some more info from Cancer.gov, regarding pregnancy and cancer risk:

  • Women who have had a full-term pregnancy have reduced risks of ovarian and endometrial cancers. Furthermore, the risks of these cancers decline with each additional full-term pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy also plays a role in an extremely rare type of tumor called a gestational trophoblastic tumor. In this type of tumor, which starts in the uterus, cancer cells grow in the tissues that are formed following conception.
  • As in the development of breast cancer, exposures to hormones are thought to explain the role of pregnancy in the development of ovarian, endometrial, and other cancers. Changes in the levels of hormones during pregnancy may contribute to the variation in risk of these tumors after pregnancy.

So there you have it: memory, skin color, hair and cancer risk are all affected by pregnancy, at least for a little while. But there’s so much more happening with your body’s intense hormonal changes, and the more you understand what’s going on, the more effectively (and kindly) you can treat yourself. As they say: knowledge is power, and that’s nowhere more true than in the area of hormone health.

Next post, we’ll look at how pregnancy impacts your thyroid health, your periods, and your sex drive. See you next time!

Get Our Blogs In Your Inbox Each Month!

 
ADDITIONAL LINKS + RESOURCES:

https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.4458
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/19/pregnancy-causes-long-term-changes-to-brain-structure-says-study
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pregnancy-causes-lasting-changes-in-a-womans-brain/
https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/22/health/pregnancy-brain-changes/index.html
(NOTE ^^ this was a famous study from a couple years ago, and all 4 links above talk about it)
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/having-children-can-permanently-affect-the-female-brain-studies-claim-10274861.html
https://www.livescience.com/8146-pregnancy-hormones-memory-problems.html
https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/how-pregnancy-changes-a-womans-brain.html
(^^ this link is basically a precursor to the eventual 2016 study)
https://www.self.com/story/9-ways-pregnancy-can-permanently-change-your-body
(^^ note #4, 7, and 9)
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mom-brain-study-motherhood-hormones-affect-brain-function/
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/hormones/reproductive-history-fact-sheet
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3760370/
https://www.verywellhealth.com/thyroid-problems-after-pregnancy-3231767
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/will-your-periods-change-after-pregnancy/
https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a19954160/post-baby-sex-drive/