Pregnant women begin feeling “different” as early as the first few weeks of pregnancy. The tiny precious life growing inside them causes several hormonal, immunologic, vascular, and metabolic modifications that are mirrored in their physical appearance, particularly the skin. While some expectant mothers may notice only subtle changes, others may see dramatic alterations in the way they look.
So, should this be a cause for alarm? Fortunately, most of these bodily changes are temporary, and will diminish a few weeks to months after giving birth. Discussed below are some common, mostly reversible, physiologic skin conditions that most soon-to-be moms may experience. For the worried mom, it is always safer to seek consultation when in doubt.
Darkening of the skin in different areas is probably the most common skin change in pregnancy. On the face, 70% of pregnant women may develop irregular, patchy brownish areas called chloasma or melasma (“pekas”). The intake of oral contraceptives and exposure to the sun contributes to melasma. For the majority, this will regress post-pregnancy, but it may persist stubbornly in some women. In the abdominal area, the linea nigra, a brownish/grayish line that runs vertically from the top of the stomach to just above the vaginal area may also become noticeable. The neck, areola, armpits, and genitals can also darken, even in women with fair skin. Weight gain can contribute to additional friction between two apposing skin surfaces, which may aggravate the darkened appearance. Most pigmentary changes are reversible even without treatment, and often, the best treatment is just time.
Stretch marks are considered the most common structural change during pregnancy. Approximately fifty to ninety percent of women will get these in body areas most prone to stretch due to weight gain, such as the abdomen, breasts, hips, and buttocks. They often start out as reddish or purplish lines or streaks that fade slowly into pale lines. Stretch marks have a strong genetic predisposition. They tend to persist for a long period of time is quite difficult to treat completely. In fact, a recent review done in 2012 by The Cochrane Collaboration revealed that, as of this moment, none of the preparations studied, which contained cocoa butter, olive oil, and hyaluronic acid, were effective remedies for stretch marks. It seems that the best way to try to prevent them is through gradual weight gain within the normal limits.
It is quite common and normal to have some degree of itching during pregnancy. Due to the stretching of the skin, possibly aggravated by dryness, many pregnant women itch every now and then. Using mild soaps, applying mild moisturizers daily, and avoiding harsh cosmetics or beauty products may help soothe the itching. Although this can be normal, some of the more serious skin diseases can be preceded by or accompanied by itching, too. If the itching seems very severe and is accompanied by skin lesions, a consultation with your dermatologist may be what you need.
Some expectant mothers may notice that they may grow more hair in areas such as the upper lip or beard area. Scalp hair may also become thicker. However, about 3 months after giving birth, women may also shed more hair than usual. This is termed telogen effluvium, and is caused by the natural cycling of the hair follicles. This stage of hair loss may be alarming to some new mothers, but the lost hair will most likely grow back to its original density.
Nails grow faster during pregnancy; however, they can also become more brittle. Taking in the right food and nutrients can help make the nails stronger and less prone to splitting or cracking. Particularly important is iron and biotin, which promotes healthier hair and nails. These elements are best taken under the supervision of your obstetrician, since excessive intake of very high doses may also cause problems.
Pregnancy is a time of change – our bodies transform into the first home of our child. It is nature’s way of creating the perfect cocoon for our little ones. Although it may be difficult sometimes, we should aim to embrace all these transformations, for these bodily changes are our testaments to the miracle of life.