I cannot believe it has been 21 years since I brought my first baby blue bundle of joy home! Not so long after, 17 months to be exact, I brought home two more bundles of baby pink joy. What a joy ride it was and still is today. Twin baby girls and a 17-month-old toddler. Oh, how I wish I knew then what I know now about taking care of myself by eating well.
This wonderful joyride definitely took my hormones on a volatile rollercoaster ride. Not only did my body not have adequate time to recover from the birth of my first child, but having twins definitely required more than my body was able to give hormonally.
Two common post-pregnancy hormone problems.
I wish I had the knowledge back then that I have today and maybe I could have avoided two of the most common hormone imbalances that arise post-pregnancy:
- Autoimmune thyroid disease
- HPA axis dysfunction (adrenal fatigue syndrome)
Yes—I had both: an autoimmune thyroid disease, which is linked to postpartum depression, extreme fatigue and hair loss. I also had HPA axis dysfunction, more commonly referred to as adrenal fatigue, with anxiety being the most common symptom.
Hormones out of whack.
Different hormones all work together in a sort of loop cycle and very commonly, when one loop gets off balance, other hormones tend to get out of rhythm or even stop functioning. In my case, this did not occur overnight. In fact, it took several years for me to realize what was happening and by then the symptoms were so full-blown I was on the verge of permanent damage to my health. This is why I have such a passion to help women recognize, regulate and maintain healthy hormone balances through nutrition.
Read my nutrition blog, Pregnancy Hormones: How to Lose Weight After Baby, for tips to help get those wacky hormones in line. One of the added benefits is that it makes postpartum weight loss easier!
The HPA axis—in charge of "fight or flight."
HPA refers to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or loop. These three body parts work together in a looping cycle with the brain and the HPA hormones. It regulates many of the body's processes, including:
- Stress response
Our bodies are made to respond to stress in either a fight or flight mode, which short term is a very good thing. In the early days of mankind, when we could have been chased by tigers or lions, our bodies reacted immediately into a stress response gear in order to stay alive. When this response system starts, our adrenaline kicks in and the body functions unimportant for immediate survival, such as digestion, sexuality and metabolism, take a back seat.
Parenthood: a constant state of stress.
Today, our bodies still have this response mechanism, but although we are not literally being chased by lions or tigers, our perceived threats (babies crying, lack of sleep, bills due, deadlines, messy houses and diapers) are all stressors.
The problem is, these stressors are constant and not temporary and our bodies do not have enough time to recover. This is when our HPA- axis system becomes compromised and we experience a rise and overproduction of cortisol—our main stress hormone—which stays at a constant. The brain keeps sending signals to produce more, but the body has been exhausted of its supply and simply cannot keep up with the demand.
Symptoms of too much cortisol.
If you have a cortisone imbalance, here are a few symptoms you may be experiencing:
- Feeling tired but wired (waking up not rested and having trouble falling asleep)
- Food sensitivities and cravings
- Low libido
- Brain fog
- Thyroid problems
- Decreased ability to handle stress
The all-important thyroid gland—answering the call of pregnancy.
The thyroid is a vital hormone gland. It plays a major role in the metabolism, growth and development of the human body. Thyroid hormones are in highest demand when a body is either growing or pregnant. The most commons thyroid hormonal imbalance after childbirth is hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). It is when the pituitary gland "tells" the thyroid to produce more hormones, but the thyroid is unable to meet the demand.
Other causes of hypothyroidism include long-term mental, emotional or physical stress, nutrient deficiencies, environmental toxins, hormonal birth control and autoimmunity.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Unexplained weight gain
- Dry skin
- Unexplained hair loss
- Intolerance to cold
- Heavy periods
If you have any of the symptoms described above, don't hesitate to call your OB-GYN. It's also a good idea to schedule regular visits with your OB in what is now being called the "4th trimester of pregnancy" so that you can address any issues you might be having.
Dara Akdamar is a certified Nutritional Health Coach with an emphasis on hormones. She is currently pursuing a master's in Health Sciences specializing in Functional Nutrition. Dara and her husband live and work in the Dallas area. She loves to run, spin, read, research—and now that the couple are empty-nesters—travel.