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  • Writer's pictureBen Lagrone

What Men Need to Know About Pregnancy Hormones


roller coaster in black and white
There's a science behind the roller coaster of mood swings during pregnancy. (Photo by Mark Asthoff)

Pregnancy is a transformational, awe-inspiring process for a woman’s body. The incredible ‘miracle of childbirth’ starts inside her body in ways no one can observe at first. Then, of course, a woman begins to “show” over time. But before she shows physically, you might notice she displays some big emotions that can catch you and her both by surprise.


Behold: the pregnancy mood swings.


Am I stereotyping a bit? Not really. Of course not every woman experiences the same mood swings to the same degree at the same time - or even for the same duration throughout their pregnancy. But chances are, there will be noticeable emotional changes because - it’s science. She’s feeling wave after wave of hormones because her body is literally in overdrive.


She’s feeling the stress like an undersized pickup truck towing a trailer load of iron anvils uphill on an off-road Rocky Mountain trail - in a blizzard.


Does that click for ya?


Well, I guess men truly cannot relate. Plain and simple. But just because you can’t relate to a woman doesn’t mean you can’t offer your support and be a loving, helpful partner during her pregnancy journey. I think in order to accomplish this, it helps to just understand a little bit of what’s happening inside her in order to have more empathy.


So here’s a short summary of the hormones she’s about to feel racing through herself over the coming months:


Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

One of the first hormones to increase in pregnancy is hCG, which is produced by the placenta after implantation occurs. It is often the hormone detected by pregnancy tests and is responsible for maintaining the pregnancy. HCG levels typically peak around weeks 10-12 of pregnancy and then begin to decline.


Estrogen

Estrogen is produced by the ovaries and the placenta during pregnancy. It plays a crucial role in the growth and development of the fetus, as well as in preparing the body for childbirth. High levels of estrogen can cause nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and breast tenderness.


Progesterone

Progesterone is another hormone produced by the ovaries and the placenta during pregnancy. It helps to maintain the uterine lining and prevent miscarriage. Progesterone levels rise steadily throughout pregnancy and can cause mood swings, bloating, and constipation.


Oxytocin

Oxytocin is often referred to as the "love hormone" because it plays a role in social bonding and attachment. During pregnancy, it is responsible for stimulating contractions during labor and delivery, as well as promoting milk letdown during breastfeeding.


Prolactin

Prolactin is produced by the pituitary gland and stimulates milk production in the breasts. It also has a calming effect and can promote maternal behavior.


Relaxin

Relaxin is produced by the ovaries and placenta and helps to loosen ligaments and joints in preparation for childbirth. It can also cause heartburn and constipation.


Cortisol

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is also produced during pregnancy. While small amounts are necessary for fetal development, excessive levels can lead to complications such as premature birth or low birth weight.


I hope the sheer length of the list gets the point across. A lot is happening! So as her husband, your job is to be supportive and compassionate. You have to grow thick skin and not take things so personally. She might say things to you that sound critical or nitpicky - as if all her stress is your fault! But if you defend yourself, it may just add to her stress. Showing humility is a way of supporting her and showing her you’re mature enough to listen.


And here’s another important thing to know: the hormone shifts don’t stop after birth. Postpartum brings its own set of changes. So whether it’s simply lending a listening ear or picking up some slack around the house, show your love for her by staying aware and giving her your best.


Don’t know where to start? Never underestimate the power of this simple question, “What can I do today to make you feel supported?”

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