What are hormones and how do they affect me?

Hormones are substances that are produced in one part of the body and travel through the bloodstream to have an effect in another part of the body. Human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) is produced early on in pregnancy by the embryo, even before it has implanted into the wall of the womb. This is the basis of the urine pregnancy test. Oestrogen and progesterone are produced in the early stages of the first trimester by the ovary, and later on by the placenta. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone both rise throughout pregnancy and are responsible for many of the changes in your skin, heart rate, breathing, joints, digestive system and blood vessels that occur in pregnancy. Prolactin is produced in the brain and is responsible for milk production, oxytocin has a role in contractions and labour. When it comes to labour, no-one really knows what causes it to start. Certainly, oestrogen and progesterone are essential to ''prepare'' the womb for labour. Contractions of the womb are probably regulated in some way by a hormone called oxytocin, which is produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. Synthetic oxytocin (syntocinon) is often given to stimulate contractions if they are poor in labour.

Hormonal Increases
The arrows show the origin of the major pregnancy hormones. Progesterone and estrogen are produced by the ovaries and later by the placenta. Oxytocin and prolactin are produced by the pituitary gland, and thyroxine is controlled by the thyroid gland.

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