Hormone production during pregnancy, especially in the early stages, is crucial to the development of the fetus and to the proper function of the organs of the mother. Normal production of hormones, including progesterone, is significantly increased during pregnancy, especially by the third trimester. This is why monitoring progesterone levels is so important in prenatal care. Without the sufficient presence of progesterone during pregnancy, uterine contractions can occur that may cause premature labor. Low levels of progesterone will also inhibit the growth of new blood vessels that provide nourishment to the fetus.
Progesterone is a steroid hormone that is vital to the reproduction process. Progesterone is regularly produced in the ovaries and the brain during the menstrual cycle by a chemical process that breaks down cholesterol molecules through double oxidation. Progesterone production begins on the first day of ovulation and continues for the next 12 to 15 days. During pregnancy, progesterone continues to be produced by the ovaries until the end of the first trimester, when the placenta takes over production. Progesterone becomes more and more crucial for development of the fetus and to maintain adequate blood circulation in the womb.
The most common symptom of low levels of progesterone and the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG) is bleeding in the first few weeks of gestation. While there can be other causes of this, any spotting that occurs, especially if it is accompanied by cramping, could be an indication of low levels of progesterone. While the old standard for testing for low hormone levels called for special blood tests only after a third miscarriage, more obstetricians are recognizing the need for early detection of low progesterone levels.
Although blood spotting is the most common indication of possible progesterone deficiency during early pregnancy, women who have been found to be deficient in progesterone during pregnancy have reported increased tenderness in the breasts and lower back pain combined with spotting within the first trimester. These symptoms by themselves may not be indicative of low levels of progesterone, and may be due to other things that are taking place in the body, such as the growth of milk-producing cells and fibrocystic swelling. However, if spotting is happening and other symptoms occur, it could be a sign of low progesterone production.
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If insufficient progesterone production is suspected, blood tests can check for levels of progesterone and hCG. According to Dr. John Lee of DiagnoseMe.com, once progesterone deficiency has been determined, progesterone supplements can be prescribed. There are several types of supplements available, including vaginal suppositories, hormone injections and oral supplements. While there have been new developments in topical hormonal creams that have been reported to have some success, the opinion of some in the medical establishment indicates that topical creams may not have a significant effect on maintaining proper levels of hormones during early pregnancy.
The advice of a reputable OB/GYN should always be sought by any woman who suspects she may be pregnant, especially if there are any symptoms of progesterone deficiency in the early stages. The chance for premature birth, ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy outside the womb) and miscarriage can be greatly reduced by maintaining proper levels of progesterone. This will ensure healthy fetal growth, will protect the fetus from bacterial infection and will provide valuable information for a successful delivery.