If your health began to gradually decline after the birth of your child, you’re not alone. You may be wondering how childbirth affects hormones and hormonal balance. The extreme fatigue, recurrent infections, inability to lose weight and menstrual problems are often a shared experience for many women. Rather than placing pharmaceutical band-aids such as sleep aids or antidepressants over individual symptoms, we want to address the underlying cause. Since estrogen dominance is often the first hormonal domino that begins the cascade of symptoms, this is where we will begin.
Much of the hormonal imbalance that develops postpartum is due to estrogen dominance. During pregnancy, the placenta produces progesterone at levels that are many times higher than a woman’s body normally produces. Upon the birth of the baby, the placenta is expelled resulting in an immediate drop in a woman’s progesterone level. This is a common cause of the typical “baby blues” experienced by many women. Progesterone is known for its mood elevating effects. At the same time a woman’s post delivery progesterone levels are in the tank, her estrogen levels remain high. Oftentimes, this imbalance in progesterone and estrogen does not normalize after childbirth. The result is estrogen dominance. The symptoms of estrogen dominance can be cycle related, such as severe menstrual cramps, irregular and heavy periods, premenstrual fluid retention and weight gain or mood-related symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks or depression. Estrogen dominance also becomes a catalyst for many other hormone issues.
Estrogen dominance causes the liver to produce increasing levels of thyroid-binding globulin (TBG). And the name tells you what it does: it binds thyroid hormone. Once thyroid hormone is bound in the blood, it is no longer free to enter the cells to be used as energy for your body. For this reason, many women begin to develop postpartum thyroiditis and the symptoms of low thyroid prior to giving birth.
In the same way that hypothyroidism can develop after giving birth, estrogen dominance also plays a role in postpartum adrenal fatigue. High levels of estrogen causes an increase in levels of cortisol-binding globulin which – you guessed it – binds cortisol in the blood. The amount of free cortisol available to enter the cell membranes and activate receptors inside the cell is now greatly diminished. In addition, estrogen dominance interferes with the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex. Another key fact is that cortisol is made from progesterone. When progesterone levels dramatically decline after pregnancy, so does cortisol production. Whether it is an inhibited output of cortisol from the adrenal cortex, an overall decrease in cortisol production or whether cortisol is bound in the bloodstream, all follow with the same result: adrenal fatigue.
Hormonal imbalance can affect every system in your body so the symptoms are often seemingly unrelated. Symptoms may include everything from hair loss, dry skin, fatigue, depression and anxiety, to menstrual problems such as heavy periods, cyclical migraines and cramping.
Our next topic will focus on hormonal imbalance and allergies. While this connection may not at first be apparent, the onset of allergies is a common symptom that many women experience gradually after childbirth. While you’ve been busy achieving milestones in your life, the symptoms of seasonal allergies may be increasing over the years as well.