May 1st, 2012
It doesn’t seem quite fair to accuse your hormones of causing every bloat, blemish, and emotional outburst during yourpregnancy. But the truth is that this potent cocktail of chemicals really is guilty as charged, and everything that’s happening to your body these days — both the good, and the not-so-good — can be pinned on them. Here are the important hormones you’ll be witness to as you go through your own trials and tribulations.
Luteinizing Hormone and Follicle Stimulating Hormone
Although these hormones are inactive during pregnancy itself, you wouldn’t be in this amazing altered state called pregnancy if it weren’t for the crisp conceptual choreography of luteinizing hormone (LH) and its partner, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Both hormones are produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and act early in life to mature the ovaries (and the testes in men); later on, they’re the caretakers of your 28-day (give or take) menstrual cycle.
First to the gate is FSH: At the beginning of the cycle (just as the last of your old uterine lining is sloughed away in your period), FSH stimulates one of your ovaries’ egg-bearing follicles to ripen its cargo and start making the hormone estrogen. Estrogen tells the uterine lining to begin rebuilding and eventually shuts down further secretion of FSH. At the same time, estrogen sets off a blast of luteinizing hormone, bursting the follicle and releasing the egg. The splayed-apart follicle now becomes a structure called the corpus luteum, or “yellow body”; it pumps out the hormone progesterone, which fine-tunes the ripening of the uterus and inhibits LH. Now on its own, the egg makes its way down the fallopian tubes to await the arrival of sperm. If no suitors are successful, it’s down and out, leaving your body with your period. But if a sperm cell and the egg do rendezvous, the game is on.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
You probably didn’t recognize it at the time, but you’d come face-to-stick with the hormone hCG the day that little plus sign showed up on your home pregnancy test. It’s manufactured by the cells of the newly developing placenta within days after the fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining and gets the hormonal ball rolling by stimulating the corpus luteum to pump out even more estrogen and progesterone. HCG is found in your urine and your blood, which explains why you can pee on a stick to see if you’re pregnant — and why your practitioner may run a blood test to find out for sure. The hormone increases rapidly in the first few months (if you’re carrying more than one baby, even more will be chugging through your bloodstream), and your practitioner may check its levels to monitor your baby’s progress.
The cause of morning sickness: If morning sickness has you sidelined — morning, noon, night, or all of the above — you can also blame the hormone hCG. Surging quantities in the first trimester contribute to your queasiness. Many researchers say it is no coincidence that morning sickness usually subsides around the same time that hCG levels start to decrease, which is around the beginning of the second trimester, when the placenta takes over production of estrogen and progesterone. Peeing all the time? Blame hCG. And 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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