Endocrine System in Pregnancy

Tess Thompson



The way the human body is able to adapt to changes is indeed something to be amazed about. The body has systems in place that prepare to meet internal and external threats. It also adapts itself to meet future happenings like the birth of a child. The changes that occur every month in the female body to prepare the uterus to receive a fertilized egg in case conception happens is known to all. What many of us may not be aware of is the changes that occur in the endocrinal system within a few days of conception.

The female endocrine system consists of the pituitary, the pineal body, the thyroid, the adrenal and the thymus glands, along with the pancreas and the ovaries. All of them undergo changes during pregnancy in order to prepare the mother’s body to effectively meet the challenges associated with pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Some of the most significant changes occur in the pituitary and thyroid glands to meet the nutritional needs of the baby in the uterus, restricting reproductive organs and passing on genetic information.

Within a few days of conception, the production of prolactin, a gonadotropic hormone secreted by the anterior pituitary, increases to stimulate the growth of mammary glands and lactation after childbirth. Simultaneously, secretions of gonadotrophins, hormones released by the anterior pituitary gland and placenta that stimulate the gonads and controls reproductive activity, are inhibited.

The thyroid is one of the larger endocrine glands and weighs about 10 to 20 grams in adults. It is a double-lobed structure in the shape of a butterfly. A healthy thyroid is little larger than a quarter, and thyroid enlargement is actually a thyroid condition that requires treatment. Some of the prominent symptoms of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are abnormal weight gain, mental dullness or depression, fatigue and dry skin.

The thyroid, however, automatically enlarges during pregnancy. This mainly happens since the female body needs to produce extra hormones during this period. Although the thyroid hormones are used by nearly all cells in the body, the brain cells require them most. Thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) play a crucial role in brain development during pregnancy. Two different transport proteins have been identified that are important for T4 transport across the blood brain barrier and T3 transport across brain cell membranes. Thyroid hormones cross the cell membranes and bind with intracellular receptors as transcription factors to regulate DNA transcription.

Pregnancy and childbirth are major stages of health in a woman’s life and should be treated as such. It is due to this reason that pregnant women are advised a special diet so that they can maintain optimal health of the endocrine system, with special attention given to thyroid health.

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