Pregnancy is a fantastic time in a woman’s life. Her body becomes a nurturing home for a precious life, providing everything needed until the baby is ready to make their entrance into the world. To watch the growth of a pregnancy occur is quite amazing and can be seemingly simple. However, the start, progression, and ending of a pregnancy all involve a special and specific interaction of a variety of hormones that flood a woman’s body from even before the time the sperm meets the egg. Parents Magazine identifies six major hormones that play a major role in pregnancy.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin is a hormone many women first come to know when using an at-home pregnancy test. These tests measure the level of this hormone in the urine, and if high enough, indicate to the women that pregnancy has been achieved. This hormone is made by cells in what eventually form the placenta. The level of hCG in the body double about every two days, reaches its highest level around 60 to 90 days, then decreases to a stable level for remaining of the pregnancy. One job of this hormone is to sends signals to the ovaries to stop producing eggs. Its main role is to allow the corpus luteum, which is a cyst on the ovary, to continue to make estrogen and progesterone until the placenta is mature enough to handle to the production of these hormones. The level of hCG begins to decrease once the placenta takes over the production of estrogen and progesterone.
No other hormone is more associated with women than estrogen. Responsible for critical fetal development, estrogen allows for the organs and body systems in the fetus to develop. Estrogen also triggers the growth of the adrenal gland of the fetus and the hormones that it produces. Additionally, it allows the uterus to be responsive to oxytocin. Pregnant women can experience nausea, spider veins, changes in skin, and an increased appetite due to high levels of estrogen in the body.
Encyclopedia Britannica explains that progesterone plays a critical factor in a woman becoming pregnant as it allows the uterine wall, or endometrium, to thicken which allows for implantation of a fertilized egg. During pregnancy, the hormone relaxes all the smooth muscles in the body which includes the wall of the uterus. Blood vessels in the body also become relaxed which contributes to the dizziness, lower blood pressure, and some gastrointestinal issues that pregnancy can bring such as gas, heartburn, nausea, and constipation. Progesterone is also responsible for the rise in hair growth on the body during pregnancy.
Oxytocin is the hormone associated with labor. The uterus becomes sensitive to the hormone as the pregnancy prepares to end. It is responsible for stretching the cervix as well as stimulating the nipples for milk production to occur. Women who do not go into labor naturally often require the use of Pitocin, which is the artificial form of oxytocin.
This hormone’s name indicates its function as it is responsible for relaxing certain parts of a pregnant woman’s body. Relaxin increases by about ten times through the duration of pregnancy, and it allows for the ligaments in the body to loosen. This is essential as the pelvic bones must have the flexibility to successfully allow the baby to pass through the birth canal. Relaxin also allows for the uterus to relax in anticipation of childbirth. This hormone can cause some women to become clumsy during pregnancy. Also, it is the cause of the feeling of looseness in some body parts such as the hips, ankles, knees, and shoulders that some pregnant women experience.
After pregnancy, women can produce milk to nourish their young. The hormone prolactin allows for this milk production to occur. Prolactin is produced in quantities 10 to 20 more times than when a woman is not pregnant. During pregnancy, prolactin ensures that the breast tissues are ready to be utilized. After pregnancy, the hormone allows the body to release milk through the nipples.
Pregnancy brings an entire cascade of hormones, all of which are required to perfectly orchestrate the amazing process of childbirth. These hormones can bring a variety of changes, many of which can be uncomfortable, to pregnant women. However, these effects are short-lived and usually thought of as being minor when compared to the amazing result of bringing a child into the world.
HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, is what a woman’s body produces during pregnancy within the wall of the placenta. Once embryo implantation takes place against the uterine wall, HCG production begins. It’s at this point that pregnancy tests start working because HCG levels in a urine and blood sample are tested. Around eleven days following conception, pregnancy tests can pick up this hormone in the blood. It isn’t until around twelve to fourteen days following conception, however, that a urine test can pick up HCG levels.
When HCG begins surging through a woman’s body, it’s responsible for all of the pregnancy-related symptoms they often feel: fatigue, breast tenderness, emotions off-kilter, and nausea. These symptoms usually occur during early pregnancy, but can sometimes last throughout.
What Should Expecting Moms Know About HCG?
What is the Purpose of HCG?
The hormone responsible for preventing periods is HCG. Without HCG to trigger progesterone providing a thick lining for the uterus, pregnancies would be at risk because the lining could begin to shred. The placenta is formed by cells HCG produces. Therefore it is not typically present in the body unless women become pregnant. Under most circumstances, a woman’s HCG levels will double every two days upon conception. Throughout the progression of her pregnancy, these levels will slow down to every four days. However, the rise continues right up to her eleventh week.
Should a High HCG Level Cause Concern?
A couple of reasons could lead an expecting mother to have high levels of HCG. One reason could be that the pregnancy date was miscalculated. Another reason could be that she’s carrying multiples. Health care providers will recommend repeat testing to check for changes in the HCG level within 48-72 hours. None of these reasons, however, should cause the expecting mother to have concerns.
What About a Low HCG Level?
In these situations, this could be indicative of a miscarriage. This reading could also be because the pregnancy date was miscalculated. A blighted ovum or an ectopic pregnancy could also lead to low HCG readings. In each of these cases, tests are conducted by your OBGYN or Midwife to receive confirmed results. These tests are often down in conjunction with others to include blood, ultrasound, and others to help develop a clearer understanding of why the HCG level is low.
For those who have a history of miscarriage or are bleeding, it may become routine for your provider to check your HCG levels. Under normal circumstances, however, HCG levels aren’t checked routinely unless other problems arise.
Tips for HCG Levels
Expecting mothers can’t do much about their levels. Therefore, you’re causing yourself undue stress by worrying and agonizing over if they’re too high or too low. A high or low level of HCG has no link to miscarriage.
The only way to definitively know what your HCG level is to have your health care provider perform a blood test. It’s essential to remember, though, that these levels can change throughout the day, as well as from one day to another. HCG levels can also vary from week to week. Keeping that in mind, it will not provide you with much information if you only receive one blood test. The only information you’ll be receiving is what your HCG level is on that particular day. When you are given multiple blood test that is spread out over a period and can determine a pattern, it’s then that you can see a better indication of the pregnancy’s viability and status.
Why are “Her” Levels Higher Than Mine?
If you have a friend, sister, cousin, or whoever else that you know with HCG levels that are higher than yours, this is nothing to worry yourself over. These levels rise and drop off at different ranges, thus making what is “normal” differs for every woman. Therefore, it’s pointless for pregnant women to compare their HCG levels with each other. No part of their pregnancy is going to be alike, including hormone levels. So, if you’re an expecting mother who has found herself differing from others around her who are pregnant, it probably means nothing at all.
How is All of This Meaningful to Me?
The bottom line is simple. The only time expecting mothers should be worrying about their HCG levels is if their OBGYN tells them to do so. HCG has no actual effect on a woman’s pregnancy, itself, and it’s only responsible for nourishing the growing placenta.
When a woman has higher or lower levels of these hormones, their pregnancy will not experience any changes. However, the reason for these levels could be multiple pregnancies.
Expecting mothers don’t have to worry about their HCG levels having an impact on gestation or causing a miscarriage. It’s impossible to change HCG levels using dietary measures or supplements and, even if it were possible, the levels would not change the baby or pregnancy in any way.
The primary function of HCG is to provide confirmation of a woman’s pregnancy and, once this takes place, it can be forgotten about. The only time it really needs to be given any thought to is if advised to do so. Expectant mothers have many other things to think about without having this to add to the mix. Ignore other expecting mothers who are making attempts to compare their HCG levels because this information isn’t useful.
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