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Pregnancy hormones: What to expect and how to survive

Pregnancy is the most beautiful time of a woman’s life… said no currently pregnant woman ever! If you’re in the middle of a pregnancy, then you know there has to be a reason behind the mood swings, aches and pains and frequent bathroom trips.

Some days it can seem like your pregnancy is flying by — one day you’ve just peed on the stick, and the next, you’re seeing your little one flutter about on the ultrasound, growing and growing. Then there are those other, slap-in-your-face reminders that your body has been taken over by someone else and that for three-quarters of a whole year, you are going through dramatic and powerful hormonal changes.

There are tears, exhaustion and frustration — and that’s just your partner trying to find ways to take care of you and your growing bump.

Well, here’s a quick guide to the major hormonal players that are powering through your body like it’s a Stanley Cup Final.

First trimester

Want to know what caused those two lines to appear on your home pregnancy test? That’s a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and I’m sure that on that first day, you loved its presence. Well, as you progress through the first gestational period, you can also thank hCG for your need to pee frequently and that awful morning sickness. Also, pregnancy bible What To Expect explains that, “If you’re catching every cold and flu within sniffing distance, you have hCG to thank: It suppresses your immune function to reduce the chance that your body will reject the baby.”

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While there’s not a lot you can do to avoid these side effects, it’s a very important time to make sure you are taking a good prenatal vitamin. Health Canada recommends that, “All women who could become pregnant and those who are pregnant should take a multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid every day. Pregnant women should also ensure that their multivitamin contains 16-20 mg of iron.”

If you can stomach it, then you should also try to maintain a healthy diet filled with lots of leafy, green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, which are rich in iron and folate. As well, consuming a little bit of ginger has been known to ease nausea. For most women, morning sickness won’t last more than three months, and some women take comfort in feeling ill, as it’s a good sign of pregnancy.

Get your partner to make you ginger teas, fetch a bucket, and load up the TV with back-to-back episodes of Orange Is the New Black as you rest. And don’t forget to drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated.

Second trimester and beyond

The good news is that by around 12 to 14 weeks’ gestation, hCG should start to stabilize, and you should begin to feel better. Unfortunately it’s just making room for a whole new surge of other hormones that bring with them both delightful and not-so-delightful side effects.


In early pregnancy and most definitely increasing in presence during the second and third trimesters, estrogen will help your uterine lining grow and boost your blood circulation. It’s also what’s behind your swelling boobs and milk production in the later weeks before birth. Your baby will directly benefit from your estrogen supply, which will help him grow organs and bones.

However, the perks of a bountiful new chest are balanced out with the downside of more nausea, possible nosebleeds (from all that increased blood pumping through your body) and more-prominent veins, particularly around your breasts.

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This hormone is a clever little one that allows your body to grow and expand, making that big, round home for your baby. Working hand in hand with a hormone called relaxin, it allows your muscles to soften and stretch around the abdomen (yep, it’s also why you might be accidentally passing more gas). This will also mean that other muscles, such as those in your legs and feet, will soften, and explains why some pregnant women go up a shoe size.

Progesterone also ensures the placenta stays healthy and that your baby keeps growing. In addition, it stops your body from producing breast milk until after birth.

The influx of estrogen and progesterone means you are very likely to experience mood swings as well as aches and pains as your body softens and expands. So take heart that there is a reason behind your outbursts and tears, and know that everything will settle down at some point.

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