Understanding Postpartum Hormones and Their Effects

Did you know that nearly 80% of new mothers experience some form of the "baby blues," while around 15% face the more severe postpartum depression? Moreover, many women showcasing symptoms of postpartum mood conditions have never dealt with depression or anxiety before. So why, all of a sudden, are you experiencing mood swings, irritability, melancholy, and maybe even some aversion when you're busy loving your new baby? It all comes down to hormones, and it's perfectly normal after pregnancy. We've put together a brief guide to help you better understand postpartum hormones and their effects.

Understanding Hormones During the Postpartum Period

Many people talk about the hormonal shifts that happen during pregnancy, but the fluctuations that occur postpartum are a bit more taboo. In reality, the changes to your hormones after giving birth can be just as (if not more) intense.

The change in hormones begins immediately after childbirth and is quite severe. The rapid drop can even result in a physical reaction to internal changes. It's a bigger, faster change than you experience both during puberty and menopause, but it's completely normal. Still, the drop can result in hot flashes, increased cramping, and even shivering as your body tries to adjust and get back to baseline levels.

Later on, these changes can negatively impact your mood and make you feel helpless after childbirth. While they should eventually balance out, it's essential to seek help if you're experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or other persistent mood disorders.

To help you better understand what's going on in your body, here's what happens to your hormones associated with pregnancy and childbirth.


Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone that's responsible for developing the female reproductive system and keeping it functioning at its best. Although estrogen levels fluctuate naturally during the menstrual cycle, they steadily increase throughout your pregnancy, often peaking in the third trimester. Extremely high levels of estrogen may cause preeclampsia, but this isn't the typical case. Instead, the rise of estrogen helps prepare your body for labor and delivery.

Following delivery, estrogen levels drop dramatically. This can result in both physical and emotional symptoms, as described above. Immediately after your baby is born, you may feel conflicting emotions, mood swings, hot flashes, and even vaginal dryness.


Progesterone is the other primary female sex hormone that's essential to a healthy pregnancy. Increasing progesterone levels help your body maintain the uterine lining during pregnancy. It also works to prevent your uterus from contracting prematurely so you don't go into premature labor.

After giving birth, progesterone levels drop the same way that estrogen does, which may cause new moms to feel some anxiety or depression. The combination of decreasing estrogen and progesterone is one of the biggest contributing factors to feeling a bit sad or experiencing the "baby blues."


Prolactin is a hormone primarily responsible for milk production in mothers who choose to breastfeed. Prolactin levels increase toward the end of your pregnancy to help your body prepare for nursing. They can remain at peak levels for up to six weeks postpartum and can help you feel calm and relaxed. Prolactin can help negate the negative effects of decreased progesterone and estrogen while providing a feeling of well-being and peace.


Oxytocin, also commonly referred to as the "love hormone," is the hormone that's closely associated with bonding and attachment. It gives you that strong, internal parenting instinct, even with your first child. Levels are slightly elevated during pregnancy to help prepare your uterus to contract. Oxytocin levels then peak when you're giving birth, as the hormone works to stimulate contractions within your uterus and make childbirth and labor easier. Immediately following birth, oxytocin levels remain high to help compensate for the rapid drops in estrogen and progesterone. It also helps your body deliver the placenta and reduces postpartum bleeding.

Oxytocin can also help encourage milk production and make nursing easier postpartum. Prolactin and oxytocin are both essential hormones that help encourage mom-baby bonding and breastfeeding.


Cortisol is the stress hormone that's commonly associated with the fight-or-flight response. While this can seem like an odd postpartum hormone, becoming a parent can bring both physical and emotional stress. High-stress levels can have negative effects on your mood and cause fatigue, which can be difficult to manage with a newborn. If you're having difficulty managing the transition into parenthood, ask for help or talk to a professional.

The Effects of Unbalanced Postpartum Hormones

Typically, your body will return to pre-pregnancy hormone levels about three and six months after delivery. You may also experience some sadness or anxiety when you wean your baby from breastfeeding later on, but it tends to be short-lived. However, if you're feeling more than just a bit blue or sad, you may be dealing with postpartum depression.

What Are the Baby Blues?

The feelings that are often associated with a decrease in estrogen and progesterone are referred to as "the baby blues." These usually last for about two weeks and are paired with mild feelings of melancholy or anxiety. They can last longer or end sooner but don't tend to result in more severe or worrisome thoughts and actions.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a complex mental health condition that can begin to develop about six weeks after delivery. Unlike the baby blues, which are mild and short-lived, PPD can be more intense and last longer. Some symptoms include:

  • Depression or severe mood swings
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Extreme changes in eating habits
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you normally enjoy
  • Feelings of worthiness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Fear that you’re not a good mother
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

If you notice any of these symptoms or have a loved one experiencing them, it's important to talk to your physician and seek professional help.

How to Help Balance Hormones Postpartum

Postpartum hormonal changes can be difficult to adapt to when caring for a newborn. The rapid changes within your body can make it difficult to return to normal; some days, taking a shower seems impossible. Although it's important to listen to your body and ensure you're getting enough rest, there are a few ways to help your body adjust as hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels. Some things you can do to help ease the side effects of hormone fluctuations include the following.

Focus on Your Diet

Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can significantly help hormone regulation postpartum. Incorporate whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Additionally, high-fiber foods can help maintain steady blood sugar levels, preventing mood swings and energy crashes. Try to avoid excessive sugar and caffeine, which can worsen hormonal imbalances and lead to further mood disturbances.

Drink Plenty of Water

Water helps your body function at its best and can benefit the endocrine system, which regulates hormones. Dehydration can worsen feelings of fatigue and irritability, so aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Herbal teas and water-rich fruits and vegetables can also increase fluid intake.

Move Your Body

Postpartum exercise promotes the release of endorphins, the body's natural mood elevators, and can reduce stress hormones like cortisol. Even gentle activities such as walking, yoga, or postpartum-specific workouts can enhance blood circulation, boost energy levels, and support overall physical and mental well-being.

Prioritize Rest

Sleep deprivation can significantly affect hormone levels, mood, and cognitive function. While caring for a newborn can make getting uninterrupted sleep challenging, try to rest whenever possible. Nap when your baby naps, and don't hesitate to ask for help from family or friends to ensure you get some much-needed downtime.

Ask for Help

While these things might seem like much, they can help your body naturally adjust your hormone levels and get you feeling back to normal. However, not all postpartum hormone changes can be dealt with as easily as going on a walk or getting enough sleep. If you aren't finding any relief and think it might be something more serious, it's important to schedule an appointment with a medical health professional. Your doctor can help identify hormonal imbalances, while a mental health professional can help you cope with the side effects.

To make sure you're getting enough rest during your postpartum recovery, order an insurance-covered breast pump from Byram Healthcare today. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all new and expecting mothers can receive one with zero out-of-pocket costs. Browse our breast pumps product guide and start the ordering process today.