Preparing for Postpartum: What You Need to Know About Postpartum Hormones

During both my pregnancies, my hormones were wild. Unlike during my monthly cycles where I could predict exactly how I’d feel each week or even think, “Yikes, I’m being rather crazy…oh wait, it’s the 8th…period’s coming,” postpartum hormones wreak a different kind of havoc on your body.

Sad and tired woman with PPD working beside table, looking on laptop, sitting in messy room

Remember, it took your body 9 months to prepare to create that sweet little human you’re now cradling in your arms and it’s going to take a little time for those hormones that your body created to prepare for the birth to settle down and get back to normal.

Don’t worry too much though. These changes are very normal and should have you feeling like yourself within just a few weeks. Let’s take a moment to get to know these postpartum hormones and how they’re affecting you.

The Biggest Postpartum Hormone Players

While all your hormones are going through their terrible two’s right now, these two, in particular, are the biggest players of them all:

Progesterone

When you’re pregnant, your progesterone rates skyrocket. It helps your body relax the ligaments and gets your uterus ready for the big day. But once that placenta is out of there, your progesterone drops off sharply and they won’t go back to a normal production until you have your first period postpartum which could be around 6 to 8 weeks after birth if you’re not breastfeeding.

For me, I breastfed both my girls and I encourage you to do the same if you can and absolutely no judgment if you don’t. If you breastfeed, please know that your period may not come back for quite some time, and it’s very normal. Check in with your OB/GYN regularly and please remember that you CAN get pregnant during this time, so unless you’re ready to get back to being pregnant, use protection!

So if you’re breastfeeding, why isn’t your period coming back just yet? That brings me to my next postpartum hormone player…

Prolactin

Prolactin is the hormone that helps you with milk production. You won’t really notice this one until after you have the baby and your progesterone falls out. Prolactin is very useful though it can cause changes in mood, zap your energy, and slow your metabolism.

With these two hormones and your dopamine dropping off thanks to them, you will most certainly feel a bit unbalanced, and it’s all very normal. You might be on cloud 9 one minute and in hysteria the next. Totally normal.

It’s not just those hormones for new moms though. It’s the combination of those hormones AND trying to figure out how to handle this tiny crying, eating, and pooping machine.

For me, the first two weeks after the birth of my first child were a roller coaster. I felt terrible. I was exhausted and I wasn’t sure I was doing anything right at all. I’d be happy one minute and in tears the next. And then two weeks later, gone! All of it.

This is what they call the baby blues.

What are the Baby Blues?

According to the March of Dimes, baby blues affect 4 out of every 5 moms. It’s an incredible feeling of sadness during those first few days after having the baby up to 2 weeks later. Now that I’m well past that stage, I can tell you that what I felt for 2 weeks was the baby blues.

I remember having it with my second one too, though it didn’t seem as awful, perhaps because I’d endured it before. And just like that, flip! It shut off at exactly 2 weeks.

My friend Jen had what she thought was the baby blues, but it turned out to be postpartum depression. What’s the difference?

Keep reading and I’ll tell you what to look out for.

If you have baby blues, you will feel sad and cry, you’ll be moody and irritable, you may have trouble sleeping and eating, and making decisions seems impossible.

Even if your husband asks you what you want on your pizza, this may be enough to tip you over the edge. You’ll feel overwhelmed about taking care of the baby too.

The key thing that distinguishes it from postpartum depression though is that the baby blues only last a maximum of 2 weeks. If you are 3 or 4 weeks postpartum or more, you should contact your doctor immediately if you’re having these feelings.

What About Postpartum Depression? Do I Have It?

The craziest thing about postpartum depression (PPD) is that it could happen MONTHS after you give birth. You may not have even had the baby blues and then suddenly PPD drags you down like a lion snapping a gazelle off the Serengeti.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that up to 20% of new moms experience postpartum depression.

It’s like other forms of depression in that you feel depressed most of the time for weeks on end, withdrawing from those you love, losing interest in things you enjoy (even sex!), changes in your eating and sleeping habits, irritability and anger, and feelings of anxiety or panic attacks.

Young mother between 30 and 40 years old is experiencing postnatal depression
A depressed mom!

Again, the difference between PPD and the baby blues is that the baby blues happen right after giving birth and disappear within 2 weeks. PPD happens anywhere from 3 weeks to months after you give birth and it won’t go away on its own.

If you think this sounds like what you’re going through, you are not alone, sweetie. Please call your doctor and get help. There are many safe and effective treatments that will help you feel like yourself again.

My friend Jen that I mentioned before was lucky that she got help. She confided in me after the fact. I was living abroad at the time so I only saw her on Facebook. She looked happy enough, but inside she was in turmoil.

Thanks to telling her husband and her doctor how she felt, she was able to get the help she needed. She decided not to have another baby after what she’d gone through, but my other friend, Marie, went on to have more kids after suffering PPD with her first and was fine for her 2 other postpartum experiences.

What’s Going on With My Body Postpartum?

Along with hormonal changes, you might be wondering what’s going on with your body after giving birth. There are so many changes, and again, they’re all very normal for the most part, but if something is really uncomfortable or irritating, tell your doctor right away.

The first 6 weeks postpartum can be filled with strange changes in your body, much of it brought on by those hormones. Here are some you may encounter.

  • Sore perineum

This is that tender area down there between your vagina and rectum. If you have a vaginal delivery, it is very prone to tearing which is why you may have had an episiotomy. You can relieve the pain from this by putting an ice pack (wrap it in a towel first) on the area, use a donut-shaped cushion, and by doing Kegel exercises. If you still find the pain unbearable, your doctor can recommend pain medications.

  • Afterbirth pains

Your uterus really has to stretch out to have a baby. And now that it’s vacant, it’s going to get back down to size. Breastfeeding helps it shrink more quickly, but regardless, it’s going to cause some cramps and aches as it gets back down to size. OTC pain relief works wonders, though check with your doctor for what you can take if you’re breastfeeding.

  • C-section pains

If you had a c-section like me (and hey, I’ve had 2 of them), then it may take you some more time to recover. Your abdomen will be sore and you’ll be a bit more feeble as you try to get your strength up. Have your partner walk you around the hospital slowly to get back on your feet.

The worst part with this is if something funny happens. I’m blessed with an entertaining husband who made such a stink (pun intended!) when our first had her first dirty diaper. I was still tethered to the catheter so I couldn’t get up. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to have a catheter! Watching him change that diaper was probably the most hilarious thing I’d ever seen and I laughed so hard I buzzed the nurse to check I hadn’t ripped open. I hadn’t, but the pain was so severe I needed her to convince me otherwise.

  • Bleeding and discharge

As your body tries to get back to normal, it will leak out lochia, a type of after-birth vaginal discharge. It’s much like your worst period moments and will be more intense the first few days. It will peter off after a few weeks if you’re lucky, but for some, it may go on for a month or more. You should visit your doctor for all your postpartum checkups and if anything is abnormal, they will be sure to let you know.

DO NOT use tampons though. Only use pads and keep using them until you get the all-clear from your doctor in a few more weeks.

  • Engorged breasts

Whether you breastfeed or not, prolactin plays a role in your breasts filling up with milk. They’ll feel a bit tender and sore but as you get into breastfeeding, that will subside and you’ll get used to your new, bulkier boobs. For those of you not breastfeeding, you will feel a bit uncomfortable until your body gets the message not to produce milk.

  • Swelling

That swollen feeling you had while pregnant takes time to disappear thanks to all those extra fluids your body is working to get rid of. You can help them along by drinking plenty of water, keeping your feet up, and trying to get some rest. You’ll start to notice things going back to normal slowly but surely.

  • Hemorrhoids

If you didn’t have these during pregnancy, now’s the time you’ll likely be inflicted. Hemorrhoids are very painful and are from your veins in your anus swelling up. Because of shifts in your body and hormones, you may be more prone to them now. Try drinking more water to keep your bowel movements regular, eat healthfully, and try using a cream to get some relief.

Constipation likely goes hand-in-hand with it, and it’s very common because your body is readjusting.

  • Night Sweats

This one is all about those hormones. Night sweats will wake you in the dead of night, dripping with sweat. Relax though, this will all even out soon. In the meantime, you can put a towel down on your bed or wear wicking clothing. You may also find switching to lighter blankets and sheets to be relieving.

  • Exhaustion
Tired stressed out mother holding her baby

Your body went through one of the most miraculous things. This is why everyone was always telling you to sleep before the baby got here. Because now that body of yours is TIRED! I remember never feeling so tired in all my life (and I got even more exhausted than that down the road). With the changes in your postpartum hormones and your body trying to readjust, plus the demands of your baby, it’s no wonder you’re tired!

See if hubby or another relative or friend can help you out by watching the baby so you can take a nap. Yes, you can sleep when the baby sleeps, but that’s usually not enough to catch up and feel like a half-way normal person.

  • Stretched out skin

One of my best friends had her daughter just before she graduated from college. She STILL had the stretched out skin on her belly long after. Luckily for me, I didn’t, but I also moisturized my belly every day to prevent stretch marks. She said no one had told her that back then, probably because no one she knew was having kids yet.

You may find yourself with stretch marks after birth and in most cases, they will go away. Sometimes though, they don’t but you can minimize their appearance. Try not to worry about this now. I know it’s hard because you just want to look like your old self again, but give your body time to get back.

  • Hair loss
New moms notice hair loss around three months postpartum and the hormonal changes that accompany birth

During my pregnancies, my hair was shiny and gorgeous, like in those commercials for hair products with the models that have that swishy, stunning hair.

And then 4 months after my first, it started falling out. Not all of it mind you, but enough to freak me out. It’s quite normal to have some of it fall out but it will grow back in if you eat healthfully and watch how you handle your hair when you’re styling it.

How to Get Through That Postpartum Period

So there are lots of things coming into play here, but try not to worry. In most cases, things will get back to normal in a few more weeks, and you’ll feel less wacky. Your body will start to heal and work its way back down to size, but not without your help. It’s really rare for a woman to give birth and be able to put her skinny jeans back on immediately after.

For the rest of us, it takes time and devotion to get that body back. Try to be patient and take care of your health by eating right and getting exercise. You shouldn’t start any vigorous workouts or sports until after your postpartum checkup when your doctor checks everything out.

For those of you that deliver vaginally, that’s going to be about 3 or 4 weeks, but for those of you that had c-sections like me, it’s going to be more like 6 weeks.

In most cases, a nice walk outside is just enough movement that it won’t compromise your healing process so with that and healthy eating, you’ll get the scale moving in your favor. I addressed this portion first because, for me, I was really disappointed that I wasn’t suddenly skinny.

It’s very hard to get over when your hormones are making you nuts too. This is why you should do the following things to help you adjust while your hormones get back to the right levels.

Rest

It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel when you actually get some sleep. Switch off in the nights with your spouse or have the grandparents come and care for the baby while you take a nap. Believe me, you will feel so much better about everything!

Connect with other moms

If you don’t have any other friends that are moms, you can look for mom groups to join in your area. I know, I know, some of them might be full of Catty Cathy’s but there will always be a mom like me looking for a friend too.

Nurture yourself

Yes, you must take care of that baby, but it took 2 of you to create him. Have your husband take care of the baby while you get a mani/pedi or a facial, or even while you meet friends for lunch. When you feel satisfied in your soul, you’re a much better person to everyone in your life.

Get out there

Unless it’s -50 outside, you should get baby dressed up and in the stroller for a walk. Or wear him in the carrier. That change of scenery is good for both of you. Your baby will likely sleep the whole time but if not, the sights of the trees, the sounds of the birds chirping, and the smell of fresh air will certainly have him captivated.

You’ll feel so much better when you move around and swap out the scenery of your living room for something else.

Get the help you need

There is nothing, I repeat nothing, wrong with getting the help you need. Whether you find yourself spread too thin and just want someone to take the baby out of your arms for an hour or two or you feel like your hormones really aren’t settling as they should. We all need help from time to time and it’s important you do what you need to. No one will think badly of you if you seek the assistance you need.

If you feel like what you have isn’t the baby blues and it matches the symptoms of PPD, please get help today. You’ll feel so much better and like yourself again when you do. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Don’t forget that we’re all in the sisterhood of motherhood together. You will be a great mom, and you will know what to do. And even if you think you can’t handle it and your kids feel like they’re breaking you or something else is tearing you apart, you can always take comfort in knowing that when most moms see these moments, their hearts are with you too.

Finally…

I recently found this story about moms that came to the rescue of another mom who literally couldn’t even anymore at the airport. It brought me to tears because it’s such a beautiful way for us to remember what we’re really about at the core of it all.

I guarantee that you’ll find more kindness like this at your most vulnerable moments. I know I did, and I try to pay that back every time I see a new mom on the brink of insanity clinging on for dear life. Hang in there…it gets better, it really does!