LET’S TALK ABOUT HORMONES
Our endocrine system…is responsible for most of the changes that take place throughout our lives, yet we know so little about it.
Our bodies are incredible biological systems. We’ve been carefully shaped by Mother Earth through millions of years of evolution to cleverly respond to the weather, stressing factors, and changing conditions around us, and to adapt to it all. When it comes to the female body and how we’re wired to give and sustain life, it gets all the more interesting and complex. Our endocrine system, which is made up of glands that produce hormones, is responsible for most of the changes that take place throughout our lives, yet we know so little about it. Thankfully, we’re beginning to understand more of its inner workings and how this affects us.
HORMONES AND YOUR BODY
“Few women understand how their bodies function, so most don’t know how to make informed decisions about how to treat hormones. [...] If I asked you to draw a chart of the hormones involved in menstruation over a thirty-day period, could you do it . . . and explain it to me? " -Alisa Vitti, WomanCode
Hormones signal the most important phases in our body’s development and are an essential part of every stage of life. Since we hit puberty and throughout adulthood, we begin to have a tight-knit conversation with our hormones. They regulate our moods, metabolism, sleep, fertility, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and menopause. The chemical exchanges that happen thanks to our hormones are not only responsible for the biggest physiological changes we experience, but also for our emotional, psychological, and mental states. Think of your hormones as your body’s most important chemical messengers. Their role is to transport information between cells, signalling, for instance, the perfect time to release an egg or the right time to produce milk—and every single emotional up and down that comes with this. Hormones are how our bodies communicate and process nearly everything from fertility to sleep, body temperature, and mood.
THE HORMONAL ROLLER COASTER
You’ve probably heard that oestrogen and progesterone are the main female hormones, but what does that actually mean? Simply think of them as your allies in reproduction. Each cycle, when your body is preparing to host a new life, hormones go out of their way to make sure that everything is set in place for this. Once it actually happens, it is the role of oestrogen and progesterone to carry out all the important activities, processes, and messages that signal your body how to make and support a baby.
When our bodies are producing oestrogen we’re at our most social, voluptuous, and communicative, while a dip in oestrogen production can trigger “the blues”.
As explained by Kimberly Ann Johnson in her seminal book about the postpartum period, The Fourth Trimester: “Oestrogen is the juiciest female hormone.” (Think breasts, curves, and lips.) “During pregnancy, oestrogen maintains the strong uterine lining, increases blood circulation, and acts as the master regulator of the other key hormones. After giving birth, oestrogen levels drop and stay low for as long as a woman is breastfeeding.” Oestrogen production is also tied to a positive effect on memory, learning, and mood. In other words, when our bodies are producing oestrogen we’re at our most social, voluptuous, and communicative. A surge in oestrogen gives you a high and a dip in oestrogen can easily trigger “the blues”.
THE POSTPARTUM DIP, WHAT HAPPENS?
Progesterone is oestrogen’s counterpart. According to Johnson: “A woman’s progesterone increases to up to two hundred times its normal levels during pregnancy.” Among other functions, this wonderful little hormone is in charge of maintaining the uterus sound so it can carry a pregnancy to full term. Normally, it is produced in our ovaries, but during pregnancy, the placenta takes over, so it’s no surprise that once it is out, women experience a steep drop in progesterone levels. As Johnson puts it, this can leave a new mom feeling like she has less resilience to deal with all the postpartum changes that are so quickly happening to her. Also, when progesterone drops, some women may experience a loss of their previously blissful emotional states. Progesterone will only slowly reach its normal level after a woman begins ovulating again.
The surge…is known to produce a high that can last up to 48 hours after giving birth. On the other hand, the big drop, which can reach the levels of a menopausal woman, can leave a woman feeling completely depleted, tired, and gloomy.
THE LOVE HORMONE, BONDING, EUPHORIA, AND EMPATHY
A third hormone, oxytocin, known as the love hormone, is probably the biggest protagonist during labour as it is in charge of stimulating the uterine muscles to contract and prepare for birth. It is also responsible for milk production and is in turn stimulated by breastfeeding. The effect of oxytocin is wonderful as it intensifies feelings of empathy and connection between mother and child.
We have a sudden drop in hormone levels while simultaneously having to deal with all the emotional, neurological, and relational implications of childbirth.
THE SURGE AND THE BIG DROP
The surge of these hormones is known to produce a high that can last up to 48 hours after giving birth, while the big drop can reach the levels of a menopausal woman triggering “the baby blues”. Typically, these symptoms will last for a few weeks, but in some cases, they linger for more time. The sudden changes in hormone levels that happen right after giving birth have a particularly negative effect on our circadian rhythms, which can lead to insomnia. Insomnia, in turn, has been associated with depression.
So, on one hand, we have a sudden drop in hormone levels and simultaneously we’re dealing with all the emotional, neurological, and relational implications of childbirth. This means that a woman who just gave birth is processing an overwhelming amount of information in a very small time. It comes as no surprise then, that approximately one in four women go through a depressive episode during the postpartum period.
HARNESSING YOUR HORMONES
Aside from pregnancy and childbirth, hormonal disruptions can result from different factors. Nutrition choices, exercise and sleeping habits, your age and emotional wellbeing, and of course what life stage you’re in. This can be felt in mood swings, poor sleep, a loss of appetite, and sudden bursts of anxiety or depression. Since our bodies function cyclically, this means we’re bound to continuously experience highs and lows in our chemical processes.
The good news is that you can work with your body, balance your cycle and your hormones, and while you’re bound to experience these changes, you don’t have to do it alone or be at its mercy. Powerful natural remedies, good nutrition, and mindful rituals may make all the difference. Access to the information tools and community support will help you navigate these challenges.
“Women have the unique ability to connect to their hormonal cycles and functions, which makes our hormones worth understanding, appreciating, and balancing.”
Created as a brand to help women navigate the toughest moments in pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum—and practically every stage of life, the Sabi Collective also hosts a space for you to feel understood, held, and safe. Much more than a wellness brand, this is where you will find a carefully crafted line of products to carry you through your new journey; a set of rituals, supportive tools, and ancient herbal remedies that have been tested time and again by women and now, backed by medicine. The Sabi is a blend of science and nature conceived by women who have experienced the joys and deep implications of bringing a child into the world or the pains of a heavy and difficult period, miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.
Here is an invitation to get to know your body and its cycles better and to really understand what is going on inside. Learn to use your hormonal cycle to your advantage no matter your stage of life, and know that you can always support and balance your hormone levels. Look for the right sources of information, know that there is help, and know that you’re supported.
11 unexpected signs of hormonal imbalance https://www.northwell.edu/obstetrics-and-gynecology/fertility/expert-insights/11-unexpected-signs-of-hormonal-imbalance
Nearly half of women have been affected by a hormonal imbalance https://nypost.com/2019/02/22/nearly-half-of-women-have-been-affected-by-a-hormonal-imbalance/
Oxytocin, the Love Hormone - Harvard Health
Postpartum Depression Statistics
Postpartum Anxiety Prevalence, Predictors and Effects on Child Development https://www.fortunejournals.com/articles/postpartum-anxiety-prevalence-predictors-and-effects-on-child-development-a-review.html
The Fourth Trimester https://medium.com/@alexandrasacks/the-fourth-trimester-wellness-guide-8d906bdcc286
The Neuroendocrinological Aspects of Pregnancy and Postpartum depression
The Orgasmic History of Oxytocin: Love, Lust, and Labor
What is the Menstrual Cycle? - CLUE
Johnson, KA. (2017) The Fourth Trimester. Shambhala Boulder.
Vitti, A. (2014) Woman Code. Harper One
Vitti, A. (2021) In The FLO. Harper One.
Welsh, C. (2011). Balance your Hormones, Balance your Life. Da Capo Lifelong Books.