From mood swings to periods to hot flashes to stuffy noses, there’s just no catching a break from female hormones. Whether you identify as a woman, were assigned female at birth (AFAB), or both, fluctuations in female sex hormones are tough. Day to day and week to week, you can feel like a completely different person.
To make matters worse, things change drastically from one phase of life to another. When you think you’ve got a handle on things, nature throws you for another loop. Thankfully, with some awareness and planning, you may be able to manage some of the varying symptoms. Here are some common hormonal changes to expect and what you can do to cope.
As you enter puberty, your sex hormone levels change, and you begin maturing into full adulthood. If you’re AFAB, you’ll typically develop breasts and grow pubic hair, as well as experience mood changes and acne. Your body will produce more estrogen and progesterone, and your ovaries will release eggs. You’ll get your first period, and there’s now a possibility of pregnancy if you become sexually active.
Some people experience irregular, heavy, or painful periods when they hit puberty and can find these difficult to handle. Many choose to start taking an oral contraceptive to help regulate their menstruation by giving them shorter, lighter periods. A low-dose combination pill like Junel fe is a good option for teens, whether or not you’re sexually active. Some people find that certain birth control options can even improve their acne symptoms.
If you become pregnant, you’ll experience a new host of changes. The differences in your body and hormones will be too numerous to list here. Your body will produce even more estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones like hCG and relaxin. Even your TSH (thyroid hormone) levels can fluctuate wildly during pregnancy and should be checked regularly.
Hormone-related pregnancy symptoms can include morning sickness, mood swings, joint pain, sinus problems, melasma, and many others. To minimize them, stay on top of your nutrition, exercise, sleep, and spend plenty of time relaxing with loved ones. For morning sickness, try eating smaller meals, drinking lots of water, and avoiding spicy or fatty foods. For melasma, azelaic acid is usually a pregnancy-safe option.
After birth, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease, sometimes leading to a depressed mood or mood swings known as the “baby blues.” If this lasts more than about two weeks, you could have postpartum depression or — in very rare cases — postpartum psychosis. An increase in prolactin, the breastfeeding hormone, can cause vaginal dryness or painful sex, but it is treatable with medication.
During pregnancy, diet, sleep, hydration, and getting the right vitamins can improve your symptoms. Eating more proteins and lean meats can improve some postpartum symptoms. If you have symptoms of depression or low mood, it’s important to seek therapy and possibly medication. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, get professional support or medical attention immediately.
What most people refer to as “menopause” is perimenopause, the years leading up to the end of menstruation. You’re not technically in menopause until you’ve completely stopped having periods for at least 12 months. During perimenopause, estrogen levels fluctuate in a more uneven pattern than usual, causing longer or shorter periods or cycles with no ovulation.
During perimenopause, you may experience insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, fatigue, low libido, bone weakness, vaginal dryness, and an increased risk of heart disease. To maintain bone density, make sure you’re regularly doing weight-bearing exercises, like weightlifting, dance, or aerobics. Hormone therapy can also help with bone weakness, and both hormones and gabapentin can provide relief from hot flashes.
Menopause and Postmenopause
Once you stop having periods for at least a year, you’ve officially reached menopause. But in the years post-menopause, you’ll likely still have some symptoms you had during perimenopause because of the overall drop in hormones. These symptoms can include vaginal dryness, sexual discomfort, depression, changes in sex drive, insomnia, and random hot flashes many years later. Some people’s symptoms lessen significantly or completely go away after they reach menopause.
Managing post-menopausal hormonal changes will vary depending on the type and severity of symptoms. For vaginal dryness, lubricants and hormonal vaginal creams can provide relief and support an active sex life. For mood symptoms, antidepressants and plenty of activity and social support can make a major difference. Diet, exercise, and medication can minimize many symptoms. Be sure to eat many plant-based phytoestrogens like chickpeas, legumes, whole grains, and flaxseed.
Changes Are Natural; Suffering Doesn’t Have to Be
Hormonal changes are a normal part of growing and aging; they’re nothing to be ashamed or alarmed about. But if you are experiencing unpleasant symptoms, don’t be afraid to speak up and get support. Simple lifestyle changes won’t always make a difference in your periods, low moods, or hot flashes. You may need more serious treatments like medication or therapy.