Most women hear talk of hormones and immediately think of estrogen—the hormone that contributes to many female physiological processes, but there are many other hormones that play an important role in women’s lives, especially as mothers.
Every moment of every day, a wide range of hormones affects your body and your brain, and subsequently your behavior. For example, norepinephrine can influence risk-taking, testosterone might cause aggression, and prolactin may find you more caring in nature. So if you feel your responsibilities at work and at home are bogging you down rather than making you feel empowered and efficient, it may be time to check in on what’s happening inside, rather than out. It could be that your hormonal levels are mismatched with the duties you’ve taken on as an employee or mom.
Below are five hormones that may be undermining your well-being, throwing you off your game—and easy ways to keep them in balance.
Forgetful? It could be the oxytocin.
Oxytocin is alternately known as the love or loneliness hormone, because low levels of it can lead to feelings of being isolated while elevated levels of it contribute to the feeling we associate with being in love. Involved in uterine contractions during childbirth, oxytocin stimulates the let-down reflex when breast-feeding, increases trust and empathy, and is important for bonding. Because human touch helps regulate oxytocin levels, the hormone is free flowing in most moms.
But there can be too much of a good thing. Oxytocin has been shown to impair cognitive function: Certain learning and memory functions are decreased in the presence of an abundance of oxytocin. As a mother, make sure you balance all that touch with moments for yourself. Your memory will thank you!
Not in the mood? Prolactin could be to blame.
If the word prolactin reminds you of lactating, there’s a good reason: Prolactin is an important hormone in stimulating lactation, which explains why some women can lactate at the mere thought of their children. Prolactin also contributes to the “after glow” post-sexual acts—a feeling of sexual gratification and satisfaction.
Yet high levels of prolactin have been found to decrease libido in women, perhaps because caring for others may be more of a focus than acts of self-satisfaction. Highly elevated levels of prolactin can also decrease levels of estrogen in women, which can affect mood and other aspects of health. If you feel you may have high levels of prolactin, ask a nutritionist about healthy ways to balance hormone production.
Not getting enough sleep? Watch out for those cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a hormone released when we experience stress, triggering the fight-or-flight response. It also becomes elevated when we have repeatedly interrupted sleep. While cortisol is very important in small doses, excessive levels of cortisol may decrease the vitality of your muscles, bones, skin, and organs.
Consider a sleep rotation system with your partner if you have a child who wakes often, and find ways you might manage your stress levels in order to decrease the negative effects of cortisol. Taking just a few deep breaths when you are tired or stressed can help shift your mental state and even perspective on a tricky situation.
Stressed Out? Norepinephrine could be keeping you on alert.
Norepinephrine is also released when our fight-or-flight response is triggered, and may specifically influence risk-taking. This hormone is similar to adrenaline, increasing heart rate and stimulating energy. It is released in response to stressful events, and while it may keep you vigilant and focused in the moment, it can also lead to the feeling of anxiety.
Norepinephrine can take some time to clear from your system after a stressful event— even 2 days or more—having the potential to leave moms who experience repeated stressful situations feeling anxiety long after the stressful event is over. As with balancing cortisol, you can help counter the effects of norepinephrine by becoming more mindful of the stress triggers in your life.
Feeling the Blues? Boost Your Serotonin!
Serotonin behaves as a neurotransmitter (a hormone that communicates with areas of the brain), and regulates your sense of happiness and well-being. Low levels of serotonin can lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need (certain studies show that vitamin B6, inositol, and tryptophan can help) to ensure strong serotonin production. Also: Do things that make you happy! Taking time to keep yourself happy and healthy may just be the best thing you can do for your family, friends, colleagues, and most importantly, yourself!
There’s no need to be at the mercy of hormones that fluctuate beyond your control—take action to bring your body and mind into balance. Sometimes simple changes are all it takes to bring you into the balance you need to be happy and healthy, which will then help you to be a better mom.