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Your Postpartum Hormone Timeline: Here’s What Happens

postpartum mom holding a hormone hair loss on a brush

Hormones can feel everywhere during pregnancy, but what happens postpartum? Take a closer look at your postpartum hormone timeline.

Having a baby is one of your life’s most beautiful, selfless, and life-altering moments. By this point, your body has undergone extreme physical and chemical changes.

Not only does pregnancy cause an increase in progesterone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, and estrogen, but you also often experience glowing skin, beautiful hair, and feeling fabulous. 

Many women feel so good during pregnancy because progesterone and estrogen – two essential steroidal hormones – create dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine and serotonin are your mood-regulating hormones. 

pregnant mom in bath

What happens to your hormones after pregnancy?

Shortly after delivery, your estrogen and progesterone levels rapidly decrease, whether you had a vaginal or cesarean delivery.

This drop in hormones and the physical and emotional stress of labor and delivery can explain why most new moms feel in a complete haze over the first few days – and sometimes the first few months – postpartum.

postpartum hormones timeline

A closer look at hormones and postpartum depression

The CDC reported that 1 in 8 women will experience postpartum depression. Unfortunately, many medical community members believe that many more women experience postpartum depression but are never properly diagnosed or treated.

Many women often go undiagnosed with postpartum depression because the number of doctor visits goes from – on average – about 12-13 during pregnancy to only one during postpartum.

The sudden decrease in progesterone and estrogen hormones may also explain why many women experience baby blues or postpartum depression.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently recognized that one postpartum checkup six weeks after giving birth is insufficient.

introducing the postpartum hormone handbook with shop now button

They now believe that postnatal care should be an ongoing process during postpartum. Unfortunately, many women struggle to access adequate care after six weeks postpartum. 

As a naturopathic doctor specializing in preconception and postpartum care, I feel that the lack of adequate postpartum care is unacceptable. We must make a change to protect and support all mothers.

breastfeeding mom in bed

Your postpartum hormone timeline

Hormones are a tricky thing, especially during the postpartum period. The more you understand your postpartum hormone timeline and your accompanying signs of recovery, the better equipped you’ll be to physically and mentally support yourself.

Three phases of the postpartum hormone timeline:

  1. Week one
  2. Month three
  3. Month six and beyond

Your postpartum hormones: week one

Immediately following delivery – whether you had a vaginal or cesarean birth – progesterone and estrogen levels begin to decrease. At the same time, prolactin and oxytocin levels dramatically increase.

Prolactin is the hormone released by the anterior pituitary gland in your brain that stimulates breast milk production.

Oxytocin is released to stimulate the contraction of the uterus during childbirth and postpartum. It plays a vital role in bonding between mother and child. 

You might also begin to experience postpartum night sweats around this time, with their intensity peaking around two weeks after birth.

Physical changes during week one: vaginal delivery 

  1. Uterine contractions and cramping 
  2. Vaginal tenderness/pain 
  3. Vaginal bleeding 
  4. Urinary incontinence 

Read next: Tips for Recovery After a Vaginal Birth

Physical changes during week one: cesarean delivery  

In addition to the above, you will also experience the following:

  1. Pain at incision 
  2. Difficulty walking/standing up straight 
  3. A bladder catheter is removed, if used
postpartum mom in hospital gown holding newborn baby

Your postpartum hormones: month three

Over the past three months, your hormones have continued to change to support the different developmental stages of your baby.

For example, milk production and quantity vary significantly over the first three months postpartum.

Between two and three months postpartum, estrogen and progesterone levels return to pre-baby levels. Prolactin and oxytocin continue to stay elevated if you breastfeed.

Common symptoms at three months postpartum

The hormone shift mentioned above can also explain why many new moms experience postpartum hair loss around two to three months postpartum.

During pregnancy, elevated estrogen levels slow down the natural cycle of hair follicle shedding. As a result, many women experience long, beautiful hair during pregnancy.

introducing the postpartum hormone handbook with shop now button

Unfortunately, during postpartum, women will experience a decrease in estrogen levels leading to an increase in their hair’s natural cycle of hair follicle shedding. This decrease in estrogen leads to what is known as postpartum hair loss.

Postpartum hair loss is temporary but may last between three and six months for most women. There are some helpful things you can do to encourage postpartum hair regrowth.

See Also
postpartum mom snuggling her baby in bed

We also notice sleep disturbances such as postpartum insomnia during this time, which often decreases melatonin and causes an elevation in cortisol. Cortisol is your body’s primary way of responding to stress.

Many of you know that many new stressors develop when you have a young baby. 

postpartum hormone timeline
Photo credit: Talitha Bullock

Your postpartum hormones: six months and beyond

At six months postpartum, many women will experience a decrease in prolactin production, reducing breast milk production.

Even if you breastfeed past the six-month mark, your child’s demand for milk has significantly decreased as you introduce solid foods and have passed significant early growth spurts. This decrease in prolactin also causes your breastmilk composition to change and is more suited for your growing baby.

Once your child stops breastfeeding, prolactin levels will return to pre-baby levels. The decrease in prolactin will cause you to stop lactating and help stimulate your natural menstrual cycle.

Learn more in our Postpartum Hormone Handbook.

Most women report getting their period back within one to three months of discontinuing breastfeeding, although this is not the case for everyone.

You may also experience that your period may be irregular for the first few months. Although hormonal changes are “normal” postpartum, contact your doctor if you are experiencing any new or persistent symptoms.

woman holding a hairbrush with hair

How to evaluate your postpartum hormone levels

To better understand your postpartum hormones and recovery, I recommend regular visits with your OBGYN, PCP, or Naturopathic doctor at least every three months for the first two years postpartum.

Doing so will help your doctor monitor and evaluate your progress. It will also allow your doctor to assess for various conditions, including thyroid diseases, like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which often develops postpartum and diabetes, anemias, and nutrient deficiencies.

Test your postpartum hormones at home

If you’re not breastfeeding, you can do a simple at-home hormone test to better assess your hormone levels at six months to a year postpartum (or beyond). You can use the results to discuss significant concerns or questions with your doctor.

Download now: Postpartum Hormone Handbook

A detailed guide on what you – and your hormones – can expect after birth written by a Naturopathic Doctor and Hormone Specialist.

More postpartum recovery resources

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