If you are having trouble getting pregnant, it may have something to do with your hormones. Hormones are special chemicals secreted by the glands in your body; they work on specific body parts in order to ensure proper functioning.
Ovulation and menstruation are both triggered by hormone secretion. As a result, infertility is often caused by an imbalance in these hormones. Specifically, the hormone prolactin plays a large role in preventing some women from becoming pregnant.
What is Prolactin?
Prolactin is a chemical that is secreted by your pituitary gland. This is the pea-sized gland found in the middle of your brain, which is responsible for triggering many of your body's processes. Prolactin is found in both men and women and is released at various times throughout the day and night.
Prolactin is generally released in order to stimulate milk production in pregnant women. It also enlarges a woman's mammary glands in order to allow her to prepare for breastfeeding.
Hormones that Affect Prolactin
Like many of your body's other processes, the release of prolactin is actually triggered by other hormones. Hormones affecting prolactin include:
- thyroid-producing hormone
Serotonin and thyroid hormone help to increase prolactin release, whereas dopamine works to block prolactin release.
Prolactin Changes During Pregnancy
When you are pregnant, prolactin changes are completely normal. In fact, your prolactin must increase in order to encourage the production of milk in your mammary glands. During pregnancy your hormones are all over the place.
In particular, your estrogen levels begin to rise, and this is what stimulates the increase in your prolactin levels. After birth, as your baby breastfeeds, nipple stimulation will trigger a further increase in prolactin. Prolactin is what allows you to continue breastfeeding for an extended period of time.
Prolactin and Infertility
Prolactin doesn't just cause your body to increase milk production - it also affects your ovulation and menstrual cycles. This is why it is nearly impossible to become pregnant when you are breastfeeding. (In fact, prolactin is 90% effective against pregnancy in the first months after birth).
Prolactin inhibits two hormones necessary to your ovulation: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). Both of these hormones are responsible for helping your eggs to develop and mature in the ovaries, so that they can be released during ovulation.
When you have excess prolactin in your bloodstream, ovulation is not triggered, and you will be unable to become pregnant. Prolactin may also affect your menstrual cycle and the regularity of your periods.