Endocrinology 101

A number of changes to the mother’s physiology (the processes in the body that allow it to function) and endocrine system (the hormones and other substances secreted by various organs into the blood stream to regulate the physiologic processes) occur during pregnancy, and in preparation for childbirth. Various hormones are released, primarily to support the baby’s and development. However, in certain women these changes can lead to some unwanted effects.

The pancreas is a large gland, which is located near the stomach, and which releases enzymes that help with digestion (breakdown of food into nutrients the body can use). One of the most important functions of the pancreas is the release of Insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood and helps other body tissues use glucose for fuel. In pregnancy, the placenta secretes various hormones, one of which is called the human placental lactogen (hPL). While its main function is to ensure good nutrition for the baby, hPL can also make it more difficult for your body to use Insulin to regulate sugar, and can result in development of gestational diabetes (pregnancy diabetes) or difficulties in maintaining good sugar control in those who have Diabetes Type I or Type II.

The thyroid is another gland, located in the neck, which is responsible for controlling the chemical processes in the body, and which is commonly out of balance in pregnancy. Alterations in levels of the thyroid hormones, and in particular an under-functioning thyroid, have been linked to subtle changes in the development of the baby’s brain. It is therefore important to make sure that the hormone levels are monitored and returned into balance.

Other notable changes can include: (1) the pituitary (a pea-sized gland attached to the base of the brain), which is important in controlling growth and producing hormones sent to support other glands throughout the body; and (2) the adrenals (small glands attached to the kidneys), which produce hormones that help regulate the responses of the nervous system and the body’s reaction to stress.

Special Pregnancy Program

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Fetal Medicine: 416-586-4800 x 7756
Fax: 416-586-3216

Maternal Medicine: 416-586-4800 x 7000
Fax: 416-586-5109

Main clinic hours: Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm

Prenatal Diagnosis & Medical Genetics

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phone: 416-586-4800 x 4523
fax numbers:
416-586-4723 or 416-586-8384

Perinatal Mental Health

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Phone: 416-586-4800 x 8325
Fax: 416-586-8596