Low Progesterone and Postpartum Depression

Childbirth brings a dramatic, immediate shift in the birthing mother’s hormonal balance. Of particular note, women experience a tremendous decrease in the hormone known as progesterone. This fluctuation is thought to be a key culprit in the onset of postpartum depression.

The Role of Progesterone

The ovaries produce two steroidal hormones: estrogen and progesterone. The role of progesterone is to slow things down in the body and to relax smooth muscle. During a woman’s reproductive cycle, her body produces progesterone immediately after ovulation. This allows her uterus to relax so that implantation can occur. In pregnancy, progesterone relaxes her vascular system to allow for increased blood volume. Low progesterone levels are linked to miscarriage.

During pregnancy, a woman experiences higher levels of progesterone than at any other time in her life. According to Grow Youthful, a healthy woman produces about 20 mg of progesterone each day. During pregnancy, it goes up by twenty times to 400 mg per day. Progesterone levels peak in the third trimester. Women tend to feel wonderful at this time, nesting for Baby’s arrival.

With the birth of both Baby and the placenta, the mama’s progesterone blood level falls dramatically. Since breastfeeding naturally inhibits ovulation—after which the production of progesterone would typically occur—a new mother’s progesterone levels can remain very low for some time.

Progesterone Deficiency

It can be challenging to discern if a woman is suffering from low levels of progesterone. Instead, she may be sensitive to the fluctuation in progesterone levels. This latter scenario is common and means that a woman may shows signs of low progesterone levels, even though her tests show that her levels are in a “normal” range. Talk to your care provider about the symptoms you are experiencing.

According to Dr. Julie Dernan, common symptoms of progesterone deficiency include:

  1. Menstrual irregularities
  2. Infertility
  3. Acne; brittle nails; dry, cracked skin
  4. Depression, anxiety, mood swings
  5. Low libido, fatigue, foggy thinking
  6. Slow metabolism, weight gain around the midsection, sugar cravings
  7. Migraines, headaches, joint pain, allergy symptoms

Bioidentical vs. Synthetic Progesterone

It is important to note the difference between “bioidentical” or “natural” progesterone and synthetic progestins. According to The Women in Balance Institute, progesterone refers to the hormone produced in the body, or produced from a plant source but still chemically and structurally identical to human progesterone, and it is therefore referred to as “bioidentical” or “natural.” In contrast, progestin refers to a hormone that is synthetically produced and differs in structure from progesterone.

There are important concerns about using synthetic oral hormone therapy to replace a natural hormone. Consuming oral steroidal hormones can disrupt your natural hormonal chemistry. This is not a natural way for our bodies to make the best use of the hormones. In fact, Dr. Mercola points out that only 10-15% will reach the target tissues, and you may need to take an oral dose that is 500% higher than you actually need. Furthermore, over 30 different metabolites are created in your liver when you swallow the progesterone and any of these can then have unwanted side effects.

Bioidentical progesterone cream offers an alternative method for synthetic progestin hormone therapy. Two brands I recommend are Emerita Pro-gest Cream and Natural Progesto-Life Cream.

In part two of this article, I will discuss how to use bioidentical progesterone cream to help relieve postpartum depression.

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