Feeling Off After Pregnancy? Exactly How To Rebalance Postpartum Hormones
The newborn stage is difficult and beautiful. While this time has its fair share of joyous moments, it can also come with very real lows, including postpartum hormone imbalances. In fact, many women come to me in my telehealth functional medicine clinic, not feeling like themselves and struggling with the side effects of out-of-whack hormones.
Instead of relinquishing yourself over to feeling crappy, 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 steps you can take to rebalance your hormones.
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What is a hormonal imbalance?
Hormones are the chemical messengers of your body that send out specific instructions to every organ. Hormones are responsible for everything your body does, and can influence your energy levels, weight, digestion, and mood.
Since hormones regulate your metabolism and other organ functions, a hormonal imbalance challenges those functions. This can lead to a cascade of health problems and uncomfortable symptoms. Hormonal imbalance occurs when certain hormones are either chronically too high or too low. When it comes to hormone levels, balance is key.
- Poor diet or nutrient deficiencies
- Gut dysfunction (microbiome imbalances, increased gut permeability)
- Environmental toxins
- Mold exposure
- Chronic inflammation
- Methylation impairments
Everyone’s biochemistry is unique, so what triggers a hormonal imbalance for you might not for another person. Also, because all the systems in the body are interconnected, if you have one hormonal imbalance, you might have other ones as well. For example, if one hormone isn’t getting the correct message across it can throw off the rest of the body’s delicate communication system between other hormones.
What happens to hormones after birth
During pregnancy, your placenta produces higher levels of progesterone that is needed for a healthy pregnancy and fetal development. Since the placenta is expelled immediately after birthing your baby, your progesterone levels also drop dramatically.
Because progesterone helps to balance and neutralize the effects of too much estrogen, this drop in progesterone can cause estrogen levels to spike, resulting in estrogen dominance. And due to the interconnectedness of your hormones, when one hormone is out of whack it can lead to additional hormone imbalances.
For example, excess estrogen can increase the production of thyroid-binding globulin (TBG) that results in low thyroid function and a myriad of symptoms like cold sensitivity, constipation, depression, muscle aches, fatigue, and more. Estrogen dominance can also impact the production and use of cortisol - your body’s stress hormone - that when imbalanced, can lead to adrenal fatigue.
Needless to say, it makes sense that you might feel a little off after birth. While some women do end up feeling better after giving birth (prenatal depression and other hormone imbalances during pregnancy can affect some women but dissipate after birth), the majority of women take a little longer to feel like themselves again while these hormones slowly start to rebalance themselves.
What hormones are involved?
During pregnancy and postpartum, there are a few unique hormones that take center stage and play an essential role in you and your newborns lives.
The rise of progesterone during pregnancy helps provide nutrients to your baby by preparing the endometrium and its vessels while also preventing uterine contractions that can result in premature labor.
Toward the end of your pregnancy and after birth, prolactin helps to stimulate milk production for the duration of your breastfeeding journey.
Known as your bonding hormone, oxytocin can help you form the initial bond between you and your baby. Before that however, oxytocin surges to jump start uterine contractions when it's time for labor.
Released by your ovaries, placenta, and uterine lining, it helps prevent premature labor during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. When it’s time to give birth, relaxin helps soften the cervix and loosens the pelvic area to ready your body to push.
Signs of hormone imbalance after pregnancy
Since everyone’s biochemistry is different, your particular symptoms can vary and are influenced by your gut health, stress levels, diet, genetics, delivery method, and whether or not you breastfeed.
Some of the most common signs of hormone imbalance after pregnancy can include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Cysts or fibroids
- Hair loss
- Low libido
- Mood swings
- Weight gain/weight loss resistance
How long does hormonal imbalance last after pregnancy?
Your body is brilliantly designed and hormones generally rebalance themselves over time - approximately at the 6 month mark - but it is not uncommon for hormones to take anywhere between 12-24 months after birth to go back to where they were before pregnancy. However, if your symptoms don’t start to improve at all after 6 months or your symptoms continue to get worse, it is important to talk with your doctor to rule out postpartum depression. Symptoms of this go above and beyond general symptoms of a hormone imbalance such as:
- Feeling hopeless
- Constant urge to cry
- Memory loss
- Poor concentration
- Panic attacks
- Decreased appetite
- Loss of interest or connection with your newborn
Your doctor will also be able to rule out any underlying hormone problems or gut dysfunctions that are contributing to your hormone imbalance in order to put together a plan of action to address your symptoms.
How can I fix my hormonal imbalance after pregnancy?
Depending on your particular health case, you might need more tailored recommendations to get your hormone levels back on track. However, these are some of my favorite tools that I’ve found to be beneficial across the board for most people struggling with postpartum hormone imbalance.
1. Eat enough healthy fats
Healthy fats are not only essential for brain function they are also considered the building blocks of your hormones. While you may have been conditioned over the years to fear fat, a ketogenic diet has been shown to help balance HPA-axis function and hormones. Whether or not you go full keto, try eating more wild-caught salmon, avocados, coconut oil, and hemp seeds.
2. Support your liver
One of your liver’s main responsibilities is to break down excess estrogen in your body but things like toxin overload and inflammation can inhibit your liver function. Support your liver with herbs like milk thistle that has been used to restore damaged liver cells and increase optimal function. While milk thistle is considered generally safe while breastfeeding, always check with your doctor first before taking anything new.
3. Eat more
Although it can be tempting to eat less in order to “bounce back” as quickly as possible, ignore the societal pressure and fill your plate up with clean, whole foods. If you are breastfeeding, your body actually requires more calories in order to produce enough breast milk. Plus, restriction can actually impact your hormones more and perpetuate weight loss resistance. Instead, focus on eating a clean diet and add in moderate exercise after the first few months as your body can tolerate it.
4. Focus on sleep
Now, this might seem like an impossible task for anyone with a newborn. And while it might not look like a full, uninterrupted 7 hours sleep each night, you can do a lot to make the sleep you do get as restorative as possible. This is important considering your body regulates cortisol and other hormones like progesterone and estrogen while you sleep.
Try cultivating a nighttime routine that fits your lifestyle to help you wind down so you can fall asleep as quickly and as deeply as possible. This can include shutting off electronics an hour or two before bed, aromatherapy, a 15 minute mindfulness practice, blackout shades, or sleeping with a weighted blanket.
5. Supplement as needed
Nutrient deficiencies can also play a role in hormone imbalances. Your doctor can check your nutrient levels and be able to recommend the right dosage and supplement brand for your health case, especially if you are breastfeeding.
6. Stay hydrated
Proper hydration is needed for hormone health as well as breast milk production. Keep a water bottle on hand at all times and sip throughout the day and while you are breastfeeding.
Seeking help from a functional medicine doctor
In functional medicine, we understand that there are a lot of underlying factors that contribute to hormone imbalances. While your hormone changes may have started after you gave birth, it might have just revealed areas that were needing addressed even before you became pregnant. In my telehealth clinic, we are able to take a comprehensive look at your health to determine areas of your health - gut problems, diet, toxin exposure, stress levels, and more - that are inhibiting your hormones from going back 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.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
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 the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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