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Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (HCG)

Produced by the chorionic villi after implantation of an embryo

Stimulates an increase in production of oestrogen and progesterone in the

Corpus Luteum to prevent menstruation

Maintains high levels of hormones to maintain early pregnancy until the placenta is
mature enough to take over

Levels peak at about 70 days

The main hormone measured in pregnancy tests

HCG may be responsible for early pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness
and fatigue

Progesterone is one of the major hormones of pregnancy and is produced initially by the
corpus luteum, followed by the placenta with a steady rise in levels until labour and birth
when there is a rapid drop in levels. This drop may also be one of the triggers to facilitate the
onset of labour.

During implantation and early gestation, progesterone appears to decrease your

maternal immune response to allow for the acceptance of pregnancy by your body

It decreases contractility of the uterine smooth muscle by preventing contractions, and

helping to maintain your pregnancy

It is a major hormone of pregnancy

Produced initially by the Corpus Luteum of the ovary

Progesterone is produced by the placenta from approximately 12 weeks of pregnancy

with a steady rise in levels until labour and birth

Levels of progesterone drop at the end of pregnancy which may be a trigger for the
onset of labour


The main source of oestrogens in pregnancy is the placenta but they are also produced
by the maternal and fetal adrenal glands

The production of oestrogen is complex and requires a close interaction between both
placenta and fetus for synthesis to occur

Oestrogen regulates progesterone, protecting your pregnancy

Maintains both uterine blood flow and the endometrium (lining of your uterus) during
your pregnancy

Increases blood flow to mucous membranes, hence the congestion of sinuses and a
stuffy nose!

Encourages the growth of milk ducts within the breast, and enhances the effects of
prolactin which stimulates milk production

Oestrogen is responsible for the growth and maturation of fetal organs such as the
lungs, kidneys, and liver, as well as reproductive organs

It also regulates bone density as your baby develops and grows

Finally, oestrogen protects female babies in-utero from the effects of male hormones

Human Chorionic Somatomammotrophin (HCS)

Commonly called Human Placental Lactogen (HPL) is produced by the


The secretion of HPL is complementary to that of HCG, and as the level of the latter
falls as HPL increases

It appears to alter your metabolism so that your baby thrives and grows, as you use
more fatty acids leaving more glucose for your baby to thrive

In conjunction with oestrogen and cortisol, HPL can block the action of insulin from
approximately 20-24 weeks of pregnancy elevating blood sugar levels, which may be
a precursor for gestational diabetes

This hormone helper initiates changes in preparation for breastfeeding activating the
secretion of colostrum

Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone

A combination of oestrogen, progesterone and melanocyte stimulating hormone can

cause skin discolouration (skin pigmentation) affecting your nipples, areola and linea
nigra (the line that runs down from your abdomen to your pubic bone).

Causes the tanned look of the skin on your face commonly known as chloasma or
mask of pregnancy

May increase your susceptibility to sunlight, so take extra care when out and about in
the sun

Mother nature in her infinite wisdom has designed a complex system of hormones to nurture
and support us throughout pregnancy leading to the ultimate climax of childbirth. The
hormones that are involved in this finale of pregnancy and childbirth are:


Belonging to the insulin family relaxin is a protein hormone produced by the corpus
luteum, breasts and placenta

During pregnancy relaxin is found in ten times its normal concentration

It relaxes smooth muscle, joints and ligaments, and promotes dilation of blood vessels
in organs and tissues including the uterus, mammary glands and heart

Reaches peak levels at 14 weeks and again at delivery

Contributes to symptoms of heartburn, and pelvic girdle discomfort

Relaxin helps increase the space for baby to pass through the birth canal

It also softens and lengthens the cervix

High levels are found in women with type 1 diabetes as well as twins pregnancy

Effects can last up to 5 months post delivery


Oxytocin is commonly known as the love hormone as it is released in pulses during

lovemaking, childbirth and breastfeeding, and engenders emotions of love

Produced by the Hypothalamus and stored in the posterior Pituitary gland

Outside the brain oxytocin-containing cells have been identified in diverse places
including the placenta, thymus, adrenal medulla, pancreas and retina

Oxytocin causes the rhythmic uterine contractions of labour, and levels soar towards
the end of labour stimulated by stretch receptors in the vagina as baby descends

It is also responsible for the fetal ejection reflex at the end of childbirth facilitating
birthing quickly and easily at the end of an undisturbed labour

These high levels also benefit your baby as they cross the placental barrier and switch
off babys brain cells reducing the amount of oxygen required during labour

Following delivery oxytocin stimulates the placental ejection reflex reducing the risk
of haemorrhage and also triggers the milk ejection or let down reflex in

Your baby has also been producing oxytocin so that crucial bonding is initiated
between you both, enhanced by skin to skin touching

Suckling at the breast stimulates more oxytocin to be produced via the hypothalamus

Oxytocin promotes feeling of contentment, a reduction in anxiety and feelings of


High levels of stress hormones interfere with oxytocin levels during labour and may
cause a delay in progress

Synthetic oxytocin does not cross the blood/brain barrier except in small amounts
therefore, does not have the same euphoric effects as natural oxytocin

Childbirth involves peak levels of oxytocin and prolactin. Add to these beta-endorphins our
bodys natural analgesia, and our fight or flight hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline,
(which may aid the fetal ejection reflex just before birth) and we have a potent cocktail to aid
us in birthing and early parenting.


Beta-endorphins are stress hormones produced in the pituitary gland and inhibits the
perception of pain

High levels are present during lovemaking, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding

A naturally occurring opiate with analgesic properties similar to synthetic opiates such
as pethidine.

Suppresses the immune system which may be an important factor during early
pregnancy aiding acceptance by our body of our developing baby

It induces feelings of pleasure, euphoria and dependency

Very high levels during labour, help women to transcend pain and reach an altered
state of awareness or zone out

Fight or Flight Response Hormones

Hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline comprise our fight or flight response to stress
or danger

Collectively they are known as catecholamines (CA)

They are secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stressors, whereby they activate
the sympathetic nervous system for fight or flight

In the first stage of labour high levels of catecholamines inhibit oxytocin production
which in turn slows or stalls labour

They also reduce blood flow to the uterus, placenta and indirectly to the baby as the
blood is redirected to major muscles groups

Therefore, high levels of these hormones may prolong labour and lead to fetal distress

Recent research has indicated that a sudden increase in catecholamines at the end of
labour may be beneficial, activating the fetal ejection reflex and a surge of strong
contractions facilitating an easy and quick birth

Post delivery effects include a rapid drop in levels and subsequent side effects of
feeling cold and shivery, when it is important to remain warm

Baby also experiences high catecholamine levels at birth, which ensures that he/she is
alert and responsive, important for bonding and breastfeeding


Commonly known as the mothering hormone prolactin is produced in the pituitry


Increased levels during pregnancy promote development and enlargement of the

mammary glands of the breasts

Falling levels of progesterone stimulate milk production in conjunction with your

babys sucking stimulation

Contributes to the surfactant synthesis of your babys lungs which help them to

Prolactin may make you feel more maternal

High levels are found in fathers to be closely involved with their baby promoting
bonding and reducing testosterone levels and libido, but not sexual function!

Prolactin is produced during sleep and levels are highest at night, hence the
importance of night breastfeeding for lactation

Babies also produces prolactin in pregnancy and early research indicates it may play a
role in maturation of a babys brain/hormone system

Each hormone has its own unique and vital part to play in our ability to procreate, nurture,
support and protect our babies during pregnancy and childbirth. Each one is vital, and

although the side effects are not always pleasant, it is reassuring to know they wont last
forever and the reward is a beautiful baby at the end of the day!