Q&A: Progesterone Levels in Early Pregnancy

Are you confused about progesterone levels in early pregnancy? Have you heard a lot of scary stories about marauding hormones and the damage they can do to you or your baby?

Knowledge is power and a bit of information about progesterone, and its role in your pregnancy, can help put your mind at ease. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions I get from my doula or prenatal class clientele.

Is Progesterone a Pregnancy Hormone?

Not exactly. Progesterone is a hormone, and it does play a major role in pregnancy, but it is not specific to pregnancy.

What is Progesterone?

Progesterone is a hormone that functions opposite estrogen in the female reproductive cycle. In the course of the regular 28 day menstrual cycle progesterone levels are highest after ovulation.

Progesterone signals the body to build the endometrial lining, prevents new eggs from maturing and calms uterine cramps.

What Does Progesterone do During Pregnancy?

When fertilization or pregnancy does not happen progesterone levels fall. The falling progesterone levels signal the body to begin menstruation and the cycle begins anew.

In the case of pregnancy progesterone levels continue to rise. The ovaries, and corpus luteum (or the empty egg follicle), produce progesterone in larger and larger quantities.

The progesterone tells the uterus muscles to relax. This prevents any contractions which could make it difficult for the baby to make itself at home in the womb.

In addition to preventing miscarriage by quieting premature uterine cramps, progesterone also helps the placenta to form.

Around 10 weeks of pregnancy the placenta is well formed enough to take over the progesterone production task and levels just continue to increase until the baby is born.

What Should Progesterone Levels in Early Pregnancy Be?

Most women discover their pregnancy as a result of a missed period. This is actually week 4 of their pregnancy. (The first two weeks of pregnancy are prior to ovulation and fertilization, while weeks 3 and 4 span the gap from ovulation and fertilization to the missed or late menstrual period.)

At week 4 of pregnancy progesterone levels should be between 12-20 ng/ml (nanogram per milliliter). These levels will continue to rise between 1 and 3 ng/ml.

In order to sustain pregnancy the American Pregnancy Association says that progesterone levels need to be maintained above15 ng/ml.

Why is there a range in what is considered to be normal progesterone levels?

The measurable amount of progesterone varies greatly from woman to woman. Doctors understand this, so just because one woman’s levels of progesterone are lower than another’s it does not spell the certitude of doom and gloom for the woman with lower numbers.

What matters most is that there is a continued and consistent rise in progesterone levels as pregnancy progresses.

What if progesterone levels in early pregnancy are low?

There are many things that can be done for low progesterone levels in early pregnancy. One is just to watch and wait. The rise in hormone levels is a daily event and a low test result does not mean the progesterone levels will remain that way.

If progesterone levels remain stubbornly low then doctors often prescribe a hormone supplement. It can be taken in pill, suppository, topical cream or vaginal insert.

Progesterone is not the only pregnancy hormone. All three need to be pulling their weight for pregnancy and gestation to reach a healthy, happy end.

If progesterone levels in early pregnancy are failing to rise up to the occasion, seek the help of your care provider.

What if all hormone levels are low?

If all three pregnancy hormone (progesterone, hCG and estrogen) levels are low then it is likely the pregnancy will not be saved even with hormone supplementation.

How are progesterone levels in early pregnancy measured?

Progesterone levels can be measured via blood tests, saliva tests and urine tests.

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