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Postpartum Energy Loss

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It May Not Be the Hormone You Think

By Elizabeth Maxim, PhD

In September, 2004, Michelle gave birth to her first baby. While she had anticipated being tired, when four months had passed and she was more exhausted than she had ever been in her life, she began to wonder if she would ever feel good again.

“I wasn’t feeling depressed, exactly, but I walked around like a zombie. I had brain fog, my body ached, and I felt like I had the worst flu.”

A trip to the doctor didn’t bring any solutions. “He ran tests, but everything came back normal; my estrogen and progesterone levels, sugar, protein, even thyroid. I was very frustrated.”

Although Michelle’s doctor was on the right track investigating the role of hormones in her condition, by focusing solely on those associated with pregnancy and childbirth, he missed the opportunity to identify the real culprit.

If we think of hormones as the music of health, then the glands which produce them are the instruments. The conductor of this orchestra is the hypothalamus, which controls the body’s autonomic reflexes, thermostat, and biological clock. It also helps to initiate the adrenal stress response system.

Stress? As in I haven’t gotten any sleep since my bundle of joy was placed in my arms? As in I haven’t had time for a shower since my sweet angel came home? As in I am approaching the end of my maternity leave and am a wreck about leaving my love in daycare? All the while my own body is trying to recover from childbirth? What stress?

“I was getting no sleep, had no time to eat properly and had visiting relatives, all on top of taking care of a newborn,” Michelle recalls, “and the worse I felt, the more stressed I got.”

Although our ancestors had bigger worries than sleepless nights, overbearing in-laws or obnoxious bosses, the process by which their bodies handled stress has passed down, unchanged, for millennia. At the center of this stress response system are the adrenals, two triangular shaped glands that sit on each kidney.

The inner part of the gland, called the adrenal medulla, is responsible for producing catecholamines, such as adrenaline, which increase blood pressure and heart rate when the body experiences stress. The outer part, or adrenal cortex, produces hormones called corticosteroids, such as cortisol, which regulate the immune system, salt and water balance in the body, sexual development and function, and that all-important stress response. Although this wonderful system has helped humanity to survive, what happens when it goes awry?

Unfortunately, our adrenals aren’t able to distinguish between what is a true danger to our livelihood and what simply overtaxes the system. As they continue to flood the body with hormones in response to prolonged and chronic stress, they eventually become exhausted.

At this point, the body’s endocrine system kicks into high gear, borrowing from the sex glands and converting progesterone into cortisol in an attempt to shore up the weary adrenals. What makes this particularly damaging for new mothers is that their progesterone levels are already low as a result of giving birth.

Most doctors aren’t able to diagnose adrenal exhaustion since tests only detect extreme dysfunction, such as Addison’s disease. However, a holistic practitioner can evaluate adrenal function by doing a saliva cortisol test.

Symptoms of adrenal exhaustion include

  • * Excessive fatigue and exhaustion
  • * Feeling overwhelmed
  • * Craving salty and sweet foods
  • * Slow to recover from injury, illness or stress
  • * Brain fog

Treatment of adrenal exhaustion can include dietary changes, vitamin and herbal supplements and perhaps most helpful, glandular therapies, such as desiccated adrenal gland.

“I was still taking my prenatal vitamins and had cut out all caffeine, but it wasn’t enough. I began taking Adrenal Stress-End by Enzymatic Therapies, giving some to my husband who was also adjusting to new parenthood. It was like a miracle. Within 3 days I felt like a human being again. I asked my husband if he had noticed any difference and he said that although it had only been a short time, he also felt better.”

Like sending in reserve troops, providing the exhausted adrenals with glandular support eliminated the need for conversion of vital progesterone, giving the body a chance to recover.

“Once I began taking the adrenal supplements, I felt like I got my life back. It was truly a miracle.”


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