Feeling Off Postpartum? Here’s How To Balance Hormones After Pregnancy

Feeling Off Postpartum

While postpartum has its fair share of joyous moments (especially the endorphin high near the end of birth), it can also come with very real lows, including postpartum hormone imbalances

Hormones are your body's chemical messengers, responsible for regulating your metabolism, mood, energy levels, and more. When these hormones are out of balance, it can lead to a cascade of health problems and uncomfortable symptoms. 

But instead of relinquishing yourself to feeling unwell, you can take back control of your health and reclaim this special time in your life. Read on to learn more about the signs of hormone imbalance after pregnancy and the steps I often recommend to my telehealth patients to rebalance hormones.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Make Your Life a Cleanse

SUBSCRIBER-ONLY GUIDES FOR GUT HEALTH, VIBRANT ENERGY, HEALTHY FOOD & CLEAN ALCOHOL

 

Get FREE access to these + giveaways, recipes, & discount codes in personal emails from Dr. Will Cole.

Changes To Hormones After Pregnancy

Women experience significant hormonal changes during pregnancy that support the baby's development and well-being. After birth, these hormone levels shift dramatically.

For instance, the placenta produces high levels of progesterone needed for a healthy pregnancy. After childbirth, the sudden drop in progesterone can lead to an increase in estrogen levels, causing a hormonal imbalance known as estrogen dominance. (1)

This imbalance can affect other hormones like thyroid and cortisol, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, depression, low libido, and weight gain. (2, 3)

Which Hormones Are Involved?

During pregnancy and postpartum, several hormones take center stage and play an essential role in you and your newborn's lives (4):

  • Progesterone: Supports fetal development and prepares the endometrium, preventing premature labor. Progesterone levels drop significantly after the placenta is delivered, leading to potential mood swings and postpartum depression. (5)
  • Estrogen: During pregnancy, estrogen levels increase to support the growth of the fetus, maintain the pregnancy, and prepare the body for childbirth. Estrogen drops dramatically post-delivery, which can cause hot flashes, postpartum anxiety, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. (6)
  • Prolactin: Increases during the final trimester of pregnancy to support milk production, influencing mood and delaying the return of the menstrual cycle. Prolactin levels remain the most elevated during the first 6 weeks postpartum. (7)
  • Oxytocin: This hormone is released during sex, jump-starts uterine contractions during labor, and helps form the initial bond between mother and baby. (8) The saying goes, “The way the baby got in is the way the baby is going to get out.” Oxytocin is the way.
  • Relaxin: During pregnancy, relaxin helps soften the cervix and loosen the pelvic ligaments to prepare for delivery. The drop in relaxin postpartum allows the ligaments and joints to return to their pre-pregnancy state, helping regain stability gradually. (9)
  • Cortisol: Cortisol levels fluctuate during pregnancy and postpartum due to stress and lack of sleep, impacting mood and energy levels. After all, cortisol is called the “stress hormone,” and birth is stressful.
  • Thyroid: During pregnancy, thyroid hormone levels increase to support the mother's and baby's metabolism. These levels can fluctuate postpartum, potentially causing a condition called postpartum thyroiditis, with symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, and weight changes. (10)
  • Vasopressin: Helps regulate water balance and blood pressure, but its role postpartum is less pronounced than other hormones.

Read Next: 15 Best Foods And Supplements To Increase Estrogen Naturally

Signs Of Postpartum Hormonal Imbalance

Postpartum hormone imbalance can manifest in various ways, like a rollercoaster, and symptoms can vary based on individual biochemistry, gut health, stress levels, diet, genetics, delivery method, and breastfeeding status. Common signs include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cysts or fibroids
  • Emotional reactivity
  • Depression
  • Hair loss
  • Acne
  • Low libido
  • Mood swings
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Weight gain or resistance to weight loss

Everyone’s biochemistry is unique, so what triggers a hormonal imbalance in you might not in another person. Additionally, if one hormone is imbalanced, it can affect the hormonal communication system, leading to multiple imbalances.

Struggling with postpartum weight gain that doesn’t want to let go? Join my Metabolic Recharge for natural metabolism and weight loss support in a supportive community.

How To Get Balanced Again

Balancing your hormones postpartum requires time and strategies tailored to your body's needs. Here is a general timeline and key strategies to help you on this journey:

How Long Does It Take?

Hormone shifts may not be regulated until 6 months postpartum (11). However, to be clear, the process commonly takes place between 6 and 24 months.

Suppose symptoms persist beyond 6 months or mental health worsens. In that case, it is a good idea to consult a healthcare provider to get your hormones tested and to rule out postpartum depression (1 in 7 women experience PPD) and other underlying issues. (11)

Every woman's body is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all timeline. However, here is a very generalized example timeline of what some breastfeeding women may expect as their hormones balance during the postpartum period:

  • 1 month: Initial hormonal fluctuations, including drops in progesterone and estrogen, which can contribute to the "baby blues."
  • 2 months: Prolactin levels remaining elevated to support milk production; potential mood swings and fatigue.
  • 3 months: Hormone levels, such as estrogen and progesterone, may stabilize; some women might begin to feel more like themselves.
  • 4 months: Prolactin remains elevated if breastfeeding, which can delay the return of the menstrual cycle and continue to influence mood and energy levels.
  • 5 months: Thyroid function might be more noticeable, with some women experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
  • 6 months: Many women see significant improvements in hormonal balance; if symptoms persist, it's a good time to consult a healthcare provider.
  • 7-9 months: Hormone levels stabilize continually; some women may notice a return of their menstrual cycle, especially if breastfeeding frequency decreases.
  • 10-12 months: By this time, most women's hormone levels are closer to pre-pregnancy levels, though individual variations are common. Continued focus on balanced nutrition and self-care is vital for women’s health.

The Best Strategies

To help rebalance your hormones after pregnancy, consider incorporating these effective strategies into your daily routine:

  • Eat Enough Healthy Fats: Healthy fats are essential for brain function and are the building blocks of hormones. Include mood-boosting foods like wild-caught salmon, avocados, coconut oil, and hemp seeds.
  • Support Your Liver: The liver breaks down excess estrogen, but toxin overload and inflammation can hinder its function. Herbs like milk thistle can help restore liver cells and improve function.
  • Eat More: Focus on clean, whole foods rather than restricting your diet to "bounce back." Proper nutrition is vital for hormone production and overall health.
  • Focus on Sleep: Aim for restorative sleep whenever possible. Create a nighttime routine to help your mind fall asleep quickly and deeply, considering practices like shutting off electronics, using aromatherapy, and employing blackout shades.
  • Supplement as Needed: Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to hormone imbalances. Consult your doctor to check your nutrient levels and recommend supplements like melatonin for sleep and tryptophan to raise serotonin levels. (12)
  • Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is crucial for hormone health and breast milk production. Keep a water bottle handy and drink throughout the day.

LISTEN: Dr. Nicole Sparks: Pregnancy & Postpartum Pro-Tips + The Powers Of Witch Hazel 

Consulting A Functional Medicine Doctor

In functional medicine, we understand that many underlying factors can contribute to hormone imbalances. While your hormone changes may have started after you gave birth, they might have just revealed areas that needed to be addressed even before you became pregnant.

In my telehealth clinic, we can take a comprehensive look at your health to determine which areas — gut problems, diet, toxin exposure, stress levels, and more — are inhibiting your hormones from returning to normal after pregnancy.

If you are struggling with any of these symptoms of a hormone imbalance and want to rebalance your hormones naturally, schedule a telehealth consultation to learn more about how we can help you using functional medicine.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

FAQs

After birth, the biggest hormonal changes include a dramatic drop in progesterone and estrogen levels and an increase in prolactin and oxytocin to support milk production and bonding with the baby.

Hormones like cortisol, thyroid hormones, and insulin play major roles in metabolism and weight regulation. It’s normal to experience postpartum weight gain or have more difficulty dropping weight after pregnancy, although breastfeeding can also support a return to your pre-pregnancy weight.

Breastfeeding affects hormone levels by maintaining higher levels of prolactin and oxytocin, which can alter hormone balance and delay the return to pre-pregnancy hormone levels.

To regulate hormones naturally after pregnancy, focus on a balanced diet rich in healthy fats, support liver function, ensure adequate sleep, stay hydrated, manage stress, and consult a healthcare provider for personalized advice.

Symptoms of low estrogen after giving birth can include hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and difficulty with memory or concentration.

View More At Our Store

Purchase personally curated supplements
and Dr. Will Cole’s books!

Bew Global Shop Banner
  1. Trifu, S., Vladuti, A., & Popescu, A. (2019). The neuroendocrinological aspects of pregnancy and postpartum depression. Acta Endocrinologica (Bucharest), 15(3), 410.
  2. Clephane, K., & Lorenz, T. K. (2021). Putative mental, physical, and social mechanisms of hormonal influences on postpartum sexuality. Current sexual health reports, 13, 136-148.
  3. Deems, N. P., & Leuner, B. (2020). Pregnancy, postpartum and parity: Resilience and vulnerability in brain health and disease. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 57, 100820.
  4. Hendrick, V., Altshuler, L. L., & Suri, R. (1998). Hormonal changes in the postpartum and implications for postpartum depression. Psychosomatics, 39(2), 93-101.
  5. Schiller, C. E., Meltzer-Brody, S., & Rubinow, D. R. (2015). The role of reproductive hormones in postpartum depression. CNS spectrums, 20(1), 48-59.
  6. Hedges, V. L., Heaton, E. C., Amaral, C., Benedetto, L. E., Bodie, C. L., D’Antonio, B. I., ... & Been, L. E. (2021). Estrogen withdrawal increases postpartum anxiety via oxytocin plasticity in the paraventricular hypothalamus and dorsal raphe nucleus. Biological psychiatry, 89(9), 929-938.
  7. McNeilly, A. S. (1975). Lactation and the physiology of prolactin secretion. Postgraduate medical journal, 51(594), 231-235.
  8. Cera, N., Vargas-Cáceres, S., Oliveira, C., Monteiro, J., Branco, D., Pignatelli, D., & Rebelo, S. (2021). How relevant is the systemic oxytocin concentration for human sexual behavior? A systematic review. Sexual Medicine, 9(4), 100370-100370.
  9. Dehghan, F., Haerian, B. S., Muniandy, S., Yusof, A., Dragoo, J. L., & Salleh, N. (2014). The effect of relaxin on the musculoskeletal system. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(4), e220-e229.
  10. Rad, S. N., & Deluxe, L. (2022). Postpartum Thyroiditis. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  11. Gingnell, M., Bannbers, E., Moes, H., Engman, J., Sylven, S., Skalkidou, A., ... & Sundström-Poromaa, I. (2015). Emotion reactivity is increased 4-6 weeks postpartum in healthy women: a longitudinal fMRI study. PloS one, 10(6), e0128964.
  12. Mughal, S., Azhar, Y., Siddiqui, W., & May, K. (2022). Postpartum depression (nursing). In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  13. Young, S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: J PN, 32(6), 394.

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

Our content may include products that have been independently chosen and recommended by Dr. Will Cole and our editors. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

Bio-Image

BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

Gut Feelings Dr. Will Cole 6

Gut Feelings

Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
Between What You Eat And How You Feel