Supporting Postpartum Hormone Balance
By Joanne Aponte, ND • June 19, 2017
Having a baby is no simple thing. Growing a baby, birthing a baby, and then feeding and caring for that baby 24/7 is a major demand on a mother both physically and emotionally. While this is one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences in life, it can also take its toll on you, leaving you depleted and run down.
Symptoms of hormone imbalance
Hormone imbalances in the postpartum period can cause a feeling of being “run down” as well as fatigue, mood swings, low milk supply, baby blues and the more severe postpartum depression or anxiety.
These hormone imbalances and symptoms can persist beyond the immediate postpartum period. Months to years after having a child a mother may experience additional symptoms of hormone imbalance such as difficult sleep, inability to lose weight, PMS and menstrual irregularities, headaches, continued hair loss, acne, low libido, increased allergies and low immunity.
No moms, this is not normal!
It is NOT normal to feel run down all of the time, stressed out and moody. Being a mother is a busy and demanding time. Taking care of a family, a home and a job, might not be leaving you with you enough time for healing and self-care. This makes it more difficult for the body to rebound and return to balance after having a baby. Mothers who have underlying hormone imbalances before birth are more likely to experience symptoms in the months to years following.
So what’s happening with your hormones after you have a baby?
During pregnancy there is high and steady levels of estrogen, progesterone and cortisol (your main stress hormone). One of estrogen’s main job at the end of pregnancy is to prepare the body for milk production. You may remember feeling quite good in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy and that’s because of all the hormones!!
After having your baby, there is a drastic drop in all of these hormones. There are also decreased levels of neurochemicals such as serotonin and GABA which are needed to balance mood. This drop in hormones and neurochemicals explains many of the common postpartum symptoms (fatigue, baby blues, weepiness etc)
The drop in hormones is very normal, and so are several of the immediate postpartum symptoms associated with them. This is why taking good care of yourself after having a baby is so essential. Rest, stay in bed and nurse your baby, healthy diet, get help from your family and friends, take time for a walk or personal time if you need it. These things will help you bounce back.
Here are the main hormone imbalances that I commonly see in mothers:
The ovaries produce the 2 main female sex hormones, progesterone and estrogen. Both hormones drop drastically after birth. However, over several months the hormones should return back to a healthy level and proper rhythm. When there is ovarian dysfunction, hormone levels do not return to normal levels and the rhythm of the hormones may be disrupted. When this happens a woman might experience several of the symptoms discussed above. Most commonly I see low progesterone levels.
We run a salivary hormone panel at or office to assess levels, so we can provide individualized herbal and nutritional support. Healthy ovarian function can be established with supportive foods such as healthy fats/oils and seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin). I use the herb Raspberry to nourish the ovaries and promote better ovarian function and hormone balance
Your adrenal glands are the pair of glands that sit on your kidneys. They have several actions in the body and are involved with overall coordination of hormones body wide. They are mainly involved with your stress response. Cortisol, the main hormone secreted by the adrenals, is your long term stress hormone. The adrenals also secrete adrenaline (the acute stress hormone, i.e. car accidents, tests) and DHEA (a precursor to the sex hormones estrogen, testosterone and progesterone).
If the adrenal glands are not functioning well you might experience some of the symptoms mentioned above especially fatigue, significant feelings of stress, “wire yet tired”, mood imbalances and postpartum depression/anxiety, difficult sleep, low blood sugar between meals, low milk supply, frequent colds and increased allergies.
Adrenal function can be tested by a salivary panel and supported with nutrients such as Vitamin C and B5 and herbs such as Ashwagandha, Rhodiola and Ribes Nigrum.
The thyroid is the main endocrine organ involved in regulation of the metabolism. It regulates production of energy and all activity of the body’s cells. During pregnancy, the demands for the thyroid are significantly increased and the organ may become taxed. This explains the increased risk for developing a low or high functioning thyroid during of after pregnancy. Most commonly we see hypothyroidism develop. Symptoms of hypothyroidism (low functioning thyroid) include fatigue, constipation, muscle fatigue/weakness, cold hands and feet, depression, postpartum depression and menstrual irregularities. It can also be a cause of low milk supply!
To Assess the thyroid I run a full panel consisting of TSH, Free T4 and Free T3.
Much can be done to help regulate and support better thyroid function. I often start with diet and replacing key nutrients needed for the thyroid such as iodine, selenium and tyrosine. Prescription medication of thyroid hormone may also be needed.
A combination of healthy diet and lifestyle along with nutritional and herbal supplements can provide much support for mothers in both the immediate postpartum period and months to years afterwards. If you are experiencing signs of hormone imbalance or feel you need extra support in your postpartum recovery consider seeing a naturopathic doctor for a full hormone assessment and individualized wellness plan!
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.