Perfectly Postpartum: Understanding Your Emotions and the Role of Postpartum Hormones

education hormones Feb 14, 2022

The postpartum period is a time of high emotion as the body adjusts to changes in hormone levels. While hormones often fluctuate during pregnancy, the postpartum period is when there is a significant drop in estrogen and progesterone levels. This drop can lead to mood swings and depression for many women. We should note that these symptoms do not always occur and that it's normal for your mood to be up and down during this time period.


In general, our hormones are important because they impact how we feel, think, and act - both physically and mentally - from day-to-day. The postpartum period is a time when many people are likely to experience emotional disturbances. Women may have emotional symptoms that are related to childbirth, such as postpartum depression, anxiety, or psychosis.

 There are many factors that can contribute to emotional disturbances in the postpartum period. These include the physiologic changes of pregnancy and childbirth, psychologic changes of pregnancy and childbirth, social adjustments following pregnancy and childbirth, lack of sleep after giving birth, and breastfeeding difficulties.

Mothers produce a number of hormones during pregnancy and childbirth. Some of these hormones are present in their bodies throughout the postpartum period:


Oxytocin is a hormone that increases as the mother nurses her child, as well as lactating following birth. This hormone can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression after childbirth, such as low mood and anxiety.



Prolactin is another hormone that spikes postpartum. It is responsible for milk production and also regulates levels of other hormones in a woman's body.


Dopamine is another hormone that rises postpartum, but it does so at a more gradual rate than prolactin. Dopamine helps with feelings of happiness and sadness. Dopamine drops after birth which can lead to depression, anxiety, mood swings, exhaustion, etcetera.


Estrogen levels drop dramatically which can lead to feeling fatigued or depressed. These estrogen dips can lead to feeling fatigued or depressed, struggling to sleep, and other symptoms. The time after birth is a vulnerable one, and it's important to seek help if you feel you need it.

 Postpartum hormonal changes happen to every mother after birth. A decrease in estrogen and progesterone is responsible for these changes. This leads to mood swings, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. These hormones also affect the mother's weight gain and milk supply.

It is common to experience a variety of physical, mental, and emotional changes after giving birth.


Postpartum Mood Disorders 

Pregnancy and childbirth are times of enormous change, both physically and emotionally. At these times, women may experience significant mood changes as well as anxiety and/or depression.

Some women may be more prone to feeling depressed or anxious than others, but we cannot rule out the potential for postpartum depression and anxiety for any woman. Women who have a history of mental health problems or those who have other pregnancy-related complications should be cautious and should speak to their doctor about their risk factors.  

The following is a list of preventative measures that could go a long way towards reducing your risk of postpartum disorders:

1) Seek support from your partner, family members, friends or other close confidants.

2) Join support groups such as La Leche League or Postpartum


Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum anxiety is a potential issue for mothers to worry about. It is a mental disorder that can affect women after they have a child.

 The symptoms of postpartum anxiety can be physical, emotional and behavioral changes. Some common physical symptoms include:

- Headaches

- heart palpitations

- chest pain

- nausea or vomiting

- shaking or tremors

- hot flashes

- night sweats


The most common emotional symptom is feeling constantly worried and stressed about everything in the world. Behaviorally speaking it's not uncommon for someone with postpartum anxiety to withdraw from loved ones or feel persistent irritability or anger across situations and contexts.

Anxiety medication is one solution for anxiety in the perinatal period. Other options include talk therapy or even taking a self-help approach to manage symptoms after birth. 

Some people might not think of talk therapy as an option for managing anxiety during pregnancy because it's not always considered an "evidence-based" treatment. But it does show great results for some patients and can be done without medication.

Talk therapy does not work for everyone, but it is a great option for those who do not want to take medications. Some women see success when combining these two types of recovery for the most effective results.


Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression is a type of mental illness that occurs in women who have recently given birth. It is a mood disorder that includes symptoms such as severe sadness, difficulty to function and low energy. Symptoms usually occur within the first few months of giving birth, but can happen anytime up to 12 months after giving birth.


The time after giving birth can be stressful and challenging for many mothers, and some women develop postpartum depression as a result. Common symptoms of Postpartum Depression include:

- Feel sad, empty or hopeless

- Lose interest or pleasure in activities they used to enjoy

- Have trouble concentrating or making decisions

- Sleep too much, too little or too irregularly

- Lose weight without trying to do so

- Be irritable, angry, frustrated or restless


Treatment for postpartum depression includes medication and therapy, with both treatments showing similar rates of success.

 Postpartum Psychosis

Women with postpartum psychosis are at risk of developing symptoms during pregnancy or in the first few weeks after childbirth. Some women have symptoms that last beyond six months. This type of psychosis can happen to women with no family history of mental illness, and doctors are still trying to find out why some people develop it while others don't.


Other symptoms include:

- Unrealistic delusions

- Hallucinations

- Disorganized thinking

- Poor sleep quality

- Changes in appetite

- Suicidal thoughts


If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important that you reach out to your doctor ASAP for help.


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