New Baby, New Emotions—how postpartum hormones affect your mental and emotional health as a new parent

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There’s a lot of talk in our society about the (real and made up) emotional changes caused by pregnancy, but there are far fewer conversations about postpartum hormonal changes (the hormone changes that occur after giving birth) and the impact those changes have on a new parent’s emotional and mental health.

Do you know what to expect mentally and emotionally after having a baby? Many expectant parents don’t. 

Parents who don’t know what to expect may worry unnecessarily about feeling emotional after having a baby. Worse, they may miss important warning signs that there may be something more at play, and may wind up with delayed or missed diagnoses for treatable conditions like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or other postpartum mood disorders (PPMD)

So what happens to your hormones after you give birth? Some of the most notable hormonal changes that occur after your baby is born include a sharp decline in your body’s levels of progesterone and estrogen, along with an increase in oxytocin, prolactin and cortisol.

But what does all that mean for your emotions? It’s common to feel weepy or down as a result of the hormone drop (this is commonly known as “the baby blues” and usually kicks in a few days after baby is born). Oxytocin (also knows as “the love hormone”) can help counter this and, in partnership with prolactin and cortisol, also helps you bond with and be responsive to your new baby. Prolactin is also important to milk production for nursing parents.

But the person who gave birth isn’t the only one who experiences hormonal changes and the emotions that go along with them. Non-gestational parents (dads, partners, adoptive parents, etc.) may also experience significant hormonal changes during their transition to parenthood. A rise in oxytocin, cortisol and prolactin, and a decrease in testosterone creates a hormonal cocktail that helps to foster bonding and sensitivity to your new baby. 

As you can see, your hormones and emotions are going through some major shifts in the days, weeks, and even months after welcoming your baby! Thankfully, there are things you can do to help the transition go as smoothly as possible, and to manage all these postpartum emotional and hormonal changes.

Here are a few tips for how to support your emotions after having a baby:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Drink plenty of water, eat plenty of nutritious foods, and talk to your provider about recommended supplements. This is important for all new parents, but especially if you’re breastfeeding.
  • Reduce stress. Resist the temptation to check your work email, read upsetting articles, or do anything else that stresses you out. 
  • Consider consuming your encapsulated placenta. There isn’t a lot of scientific research about placenta consumption, however there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence that suggests it may help support emotional health postpartum. Learn more here.
  • Gather your support system. This may include family, friends, or others who make you feel loved, supported, and respected. Let them know how they can help (and then actually accept that help).
  • Avoid folks who make you feel stressed, judged, or otherwise unpleasant. If there’s no way around seeing them, try to limit the length and frequency of their visits and enlist your partner to help act as a buffer.
  • Invest in professional support. Consider adding a birth doula, daytime postpartum support, overnight support, and/or breastfeeding support (if you plan to breastfeed) to your team. 

When it comes to navigating all these emotional and hormonal changes, the importance of support truly cannot be overstated. Whether it’s paid professional support, the support of loved ones or—ideally—a combination of the two, having a strong support system to care for you during your transition to parenthood can make all the difference in the world.

Sources:
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324031.php
https://www.apa.org/monitor/oct02/postpartu
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324031.php

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