Few things are as life affirming as bringing a child into the world. After nine months of expectation, impatience and, unfortunately, a bit of physical pain, mothers can relish the divine luxury of holding their new baby for the first time. Considered to be one of the most ‘natural’ functions of the human body, reproduction is also surprisingly complex, involving a wide range of physical processes that remain invisible to external observers. Pregnancy significantly alters a woman’s hormonal balance, and can produce a wide array of side effects, some of which are more welcome than others. Here’s a list of affected pregnancy hormones and a bit of information letting you know what to expect! Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) Unfortunately, many women can recognize an increase in HCG by one of the most notorious first signs of pregnancy – morning sickness. After impregnation and implantation, HCG is produced by cells found within the forthcoming placenta. HCG production typically returns to normal levels during the second trimester of pregnancy, after the placenta begins producing estrogen and progesterone without assistance from the corpus luteum. When this occurs, morning sickness typically disappears. HCG is also known to diminish the functionality of the immune system in an effort to ensure that the body accepts the developing fetus, leaving women susceptible to a range of infectious illnesses, such as the cold or flu. Estrogen Considered one of the “big two” pregnany hormones, estrogen is directly responsible for helping the uterus grow, actively maintaining the uterine lining and increasing the size of women’s breasts, ensuring that they are fully developed for nursing when the baby arrives. Estrogen also increases the flow of blood to mucous membranes, causing physical symptoms such as stuffy nose, headache and sinus congestion. Increased levels of estrogen can also result in skin discolorations, affecting your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight and temperature. Progesterone The second of the “big two” hormones, progesterone is first manufactured by the ovaries and is later produced by the placenta beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy. One of progesterone’s primary functions is to ensure that the placenta continues to function properly during pregnancy. In addition, progesterone helps to maintain a healthy uterine lining and actively catalyzes breast tissue growth. As the uterus is a muscle, progesterone actively reduces muscle contractions in this region, ensuring that the fetus can grow comfortably within the womb. The side effects of increased progesterone hormone during pregnancy can be somewhat uncomfortable. Common symptoms include indigestion, bloating and heartburn. Progesterone’s effects can also be seen outside of the uterus. As this particular hormone softens cartilage, many pregnant women will experience loosened joints and ligaments. Progesterone also actively increases the production of sweat in the sweat glands. As stated previously, not all of these “symptoms” seem appealing. Although pregnancy has its fair share of awkward or uncomfortable moments, the rewards far outweigh the small sacrifices along the way. For every hip pain or back ache, you can bask in the knowledge that a small bundle of joy is about to change your life forever. And what a gift that will be. In A Nutshell: The female body’s hormone levels are significantly affected during pregnancy in order to ensure that the developing baby is given adequate protection during maturation. Although these fluctuations in hormones during pregnancy may result in a variety of physical side effects, women should rest assured that these ‘problems’ are a natural part of pregnancy. Medical professionals can always provide further advice or examination throughout the process.