Pregnancy comes with its ups and downs, and a major contributor to these shifts is the fluctuation of hormones. Let's explore these amazing hormones, how prenatal yoga can help you embrace these changes, and what to consider during your yoga practice.
Understanding your hormones
From the moment of conception, your body undergoes numerous changes, driven by four key hormones:
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
This hormone signals the pregnancy test's double lines and plays a vital role in sustaining the early stages of pregnancy, but it can also contribute to those not-so-pleasant nauseous mornings (or days!).
If you’ve practiced prenatal or postpartum yoga with me, you might have heard me mentioning Relaxin quite often. That’s because it’s an amazing hormone that plays a key role from conception all the way to labour and birth.
It’ released from the placenta and the ovary during pregnancy and it’s released in high amounts during the first trimester to help the fetus implant in the uterine wall. It helps to loosen your muscles, tendons and ligaments to make space for your growing baby and inhibits uterine contractions to help prevent premature birth. The cardiac system is also benefited by this amazing hormone as it helps it adapt to the increased oxygen demand from baby.
Estrogen and Progesterone
These two hormones work in tandem, not only during your menstrual cycle but also throughout pregnancy to create a nurturing environment for fetal development and support the overall pregnancy journey.
Estrogen is a group of hormones primarily produced by the ovaries, with the placenta taking over its production during pregnancy. It helps stimulate the growth and development of the uterus to accommodate your growing baby, it plays a role in the development of certain fetal organs, such as the liver, kidneys, and lungs. Estrogen promotes increased blood flow to the uterus and placenta, ensuring that the fetus receives a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients and contributes to the development of milk ducts in the breasts, preparing the body for breastfeeding. Amazing, right?!
Progesterone is primarily produced by the ovaries in the early stages of pregnancy, and later, the placenta takes over its production. Its main functions include maintaining a thickened uterine lining, providing a supportive environment for the developing embryo. Progesterone plays a role in modulating the maternal immune system, preventing it from rejecting baby as a foreign entity and supports the development and functioning of the placenta, which is vital for providing nutrients and oxygen to the growing baby.
Moving on to birth…
As you approach childbirth, three hormones take center stage:
You might know this one as the “love hormone”. It makes you feel good, and plays a key role in fertility, contractions, releasing breastmilk and bonding with baby. Oxytocin stimulates the powerful contractions you’ll feel during labour. After birth, baby breastfeeding stimulates the production of oxytocin, which can help control bleeding for mom and support the uterus in contracting back to its original size.
Endorphins play a vital role during labour and birth. These are the same hormones produced after a good workout. If labouring without any medication, you might notice the presence of these hormones rising as labour progresses, peaking when you first see your baby. I remember those endorphins kicking in from the moment I knew my baby was coming, even though I had a C-section.
This hormone is the one triggering the “fight of flight” response in our bodies. It’s a natural response to stress and its produced by the adrenal glands. Adrenaline peaks in the transition stage of labor and it is said to be part of our evolution, helping mothers stay alert to be able to give birth in a safe and protected space. If your adrenaline levels are high during labor, for instance, if a doctor storms into your room without notice, it may be that your labor process slows down. High adrenaline levels can also lengthen your recovery during postpartum.
The role of prenatal yoga in hormone balance
When it comes to relaxin, your prenatal yoga practice plays a crucial role. As you stretch and relax during yoga, your body sends signals to the brain, triggering the release of relaxin. This hormone is a game-changer, preparing your body for the beautiful journey of childbirth.
However, as an expectant mom, it's vital to approach yoga and any exercise with care. Avoid over-exertion by keeping your effort below 70% of your maximum capacity or stretching edge. This way, you ensure your joints and ligaments are safe from strain.
Practicing prenatal yoga balances your hormones. Here’s how:
Stress Reduction: Prenatal yoga emphasizes relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and mindfulness, which can help reduce stress and anxiety levels. High levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, can negatively impact other hormone levels in the body. By promoting relaxation and stress reduction, prenatal yoga can help maintain a more balanced hormonal state.
Support for Endocrine System: Prenatal yoga poses and movements can gently stimulate and massage the organs, including the endocrine glands responsible for hormone production. This gentle stimulation can support the endocrine system's functioning, potentially aiding in hormone balance.
Blood Circulation: Prenatal yoga promotes improved blood circulation throughout the body, including the reproductive organs.
Pelvic Floor Engagement: Specific yoga poses that engage the pelvic floor muscles can contribute to better pelvic health and support hormonal regulation. The pelvic floor plays a role in hormone metabolism and stability.
Mind-Body Connection: Prenatal yoga encourages the mind-body connection, allowing pregnant women to become more aware of their bodies and their changing hormonal needs. This heightened awareness can lead to better self-care, hormonal regulation and better advocating for yourself during labor and birth.
Encouraging Gentle Movement: Regular movement through prenatal yoga can help keep the body active without putting excessive stress on joints and muscles. It supports healthy blood flow and can contribute to overall hormonal health.
Hormone-Specific Poses: Some prenatal yoga poses are believed to have a specific impact on certain hormones. For example, inverted poses may support thyroid function, and heart-opening poses can boost feelings of well-being by stimulating the release of hormones like oxytocin and reducing adrenaline and cortisol levels.
With prenatal yoga's relaxation, gentle movements, and mindful practices, you can support your hormone balance, enhance your pregnancy experience, and prepare for the arrival of your little one. By learning how to stay calm and present, even when you’re feeling pain or discomfort, you’ll be able to cope with labor and birth from an informed and empowered place. Also, understanding the science of these hormonal changes can help you navigate this transformative phase with greater awareness and self-compassion.
To further equip yourself for your best birth and postpartum experience, get my FREE Mini Course: Strengthen Your Body and Mind for Birth and Beyond with Yoga.
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Want to prepare for birth and postpartum with yoga? Join my Online Prenatal Yoga Series: Empowered, centered and fit for birth and postpartum! 🌟🤰
In our small group setting, you'll have the opportunity to connect with other amazing moms-to-be and receive personalized guidance and support.