Pregnancy and Skin Changes
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For many women, pregnancy brings glowing skin, rosy cheeks, and shiny hair. Others, however, can experience skin changes that aren’t so attractive, including acne, dark spots, and stretch marks.
Here are some of the common skin conditions in pregnancy, along with some practical tips on managing those that can be troublesome.
Increased blood flow and oil production are the factors behind the radiant pregnancy glow. That radiance sometimes comes with a price, as the increased oil production can result in acne.
Just as when you were a pimply teen, keeping the affected skin clean and oil-free can help. But certain acne and skin care products should be avoided in pregnancy:
- The prescription anti-acne drugs isotretinoin and tretinoin can cause birth defects and should never be used during pregnancy.
- Avoid abrasive scrubs or exfoliants as these can irritate sensitive skin.
- Generally, most over-the-counter acne cleansers and treatments are safe to use in pregnancy, but you should check with your healthcare provider first. The good news is that acne typically goes away shortly after delivery.
A natural increase in melanin during pregnancy is responsible for areas of darkened skin, especially on the face. To minimize this “mask of pregnancy” called chloasma:
- Be sure to wear sunscreen or wear a hat while in the sun.
- Decrease the amount of time you spend in the sun. Avoid the peak hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are most direct.
Most of these brownish-colored areas fade over time, often within a few months after giving birth.
Although most women expect to have some stretch marks on their belly with pregnancy, many are surprised to also find these pink or red stripes on their breasts, buttocks, and thighs.
In fact, stretch marks can happen anywhere there is rapid growth and stretching of the skin. Unfortunately, no methods are proven to prevent or erase stretch marks. And this is in spite of the abundance of lotions and creams advertised.
The marks will fade over time and any irritation can be reduced by using a moisturizer.
Spider veins and varicose veins
Spider veins come from hormonal changes and increased blood volume during pregnancy. They appear as tiny red veins on the face, neck, and arms. The redness should fade after the baby is born.
Varicose veins happen because of the weight and pressure of the uterus compressing the veins. This decreases the blood flow from the lower body. The veins in the legs become swollen, sore, and blue. Varicose veins can also be found on the vulva, vagina, and rectum (hemorrhoids). Typically, varicose veins are cosmetic and clear up after delivery.
Itchy skin is common, especially in the winter, when skin is dry and easily irritated. Some women develop a rash or itchy bumps that are caused by a variety of conditions. Although most are more irritating than dangerous, you should always ask your healthcare provider about any itching problems.
Hormones of pregnancy can increase hair growth. Many women notice that their hair is thicker and healthier looking. Sometimes those hormones cause hair growth in other places, too, on the face or neck.
Talk with your healthcare provider if you notice excessive hair growth in new places. Most hair-removal methods are safe in pregnancy. These methods include waxing, tweezing, and shaving.
Your hair growth should return to normal about 6 months after giving birth.
Pregnant? 5 tips to keep your circulation healthy
During the nine-month period, your entire vascular system gears up to deliver oxygen and blood to both you and the growing baby. Your body creates 50 percent more blood and your heart works 30 percent harder. Along the way, new chemicals and hormones begin to circulate in the blood. And the bigger the baby gets, the more it pushes against the blood vessels that serve the legs and back.
Click to learn more about your vascular system
These changes can cause vascular issues that are extremely common during pregnancy and in most cases they are just annoying, vascular surgeons say. Occasionally, however, there are complications that will need immediate attention. Here are some things you should know as you progress in your pregnancy:
- VENOUS INSUFFICIENCY. Up to 80 percent of pregnant women get some kind of venous insufficiency, which means that, though blood can flow down into the feet, it may have trouble getting back up to the heart. Women with venous insufficiency notice leg swelling and pain, night cramps, numbness and itching. Sometimes the valves in the veins are weak and sometimes there is an anatomical reason that is aggravated by the extra blood, as well as by the baby that has parked itself on your inferior vena cava. In any of those cases, blood can pool in the legs and feet, causing swelling and pain. Most of the time this starts in the first trimester and with subsequent pregnancies it can become worse. Risks increase for those who are smokers, who have a family history of vein problems or blood clots, or who are obese.
What to do:
Elevate. Put your feet up whenever you can. Any swelling you get during the day should be gone after a night's sleep. If not, tell your doctor.
Wear compression stockings. They may not be your favorite fashion statement, but they are proven effective at improving leg symptoms during pregnancy and preventing complications afterwards.
Vascular researcher Dr. Caitlin Hicks, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital, says compression stockings should be worn by all pregnant women who have leg heaviness, leg cramps or swelling in the legs and feet. Dr. Hicks was the lead author of a review of pregnancy's vascular effects in the February edition of the Journal of Vascular Surgery Venous and Lymphatic Disorders.
- VARICOSE VEINS. Women who notice these changes during pregnancy are 40 percent more ly to develop varicose veins. Some may be treated with medication to prevent additional complications. Those complications can include vein inflammation and superficial or deep vein blood clots.
What to do:
Tell your ob-gyn if your feet are swollen and red when you get up in the morning, or if you have swelling, pain or redness along a vein. Be sure to alert the doctor if one leg or foot is swollen and painful and the other is not. You may be referred to a vascular surgeon. Vascular surgeons treat disorders in the circulatory system with medication and sometimes surgery.
If you need medication during pregnancy your doctor will prescribe one that will not affect the baby. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and low-molecular-weight heparin are two that can be safely taken during pregnancy.
- BLOOD CLOTS. In a few cases, the mother develops a blood clot that travels through the vein from the leg up into the lungs. If this happens, you will become very short of breath.
What to do: Tell your doctor if you are short of breath. Usually shortness of breath is just a symptom of having an enormous baby playing kickball in your uterus, but it is worth mentioning to your ob-gyn.
In a perfect world, every doctor would catch every abnormality, however, “it is always a good idea to advocate for yourself,” said Dr. Hicks. “You can just say, 'It hurts to breathe,' or 'would you mind looking at my legs?'”
- ASK BEFORE YOU FLY. You may have heard this but it is worth repeating: If you are thinking of making travel plans, ask your doctor if it's OK to fly. Particularly if you are having any venous issues, it is wise to get cleared for air travel.
What to do: Wear compression stockings on your flight.
- IT'S NOT OVER TILL IT'S OVER. Don't assume that once your baby is born you're off the hook. In most cases, the volume of blood, heart effort and vein dilation all return quickly to normal. But some mothers get chronic venous dilation from pregnancy that doesn't fully resolve.
What to do: Pay attention to your health after the birth. This can be difficult when all your attention is on the baby, who may be opting for a 30-minute feeding cycle.
Moms with chronic venous dilation are at higher risk for a variety of vascular problems, and you don't want to be laid up when you're busy being a new mother.
Symptoms will include leg swelling, rashes, pain in the legs or changes in skin color.
Most leg vein symptoms in pregnancy are not serious and go away after the birth. However, if you have marked swelling in one leg, or have swelling and become short of breath, you should immediately let your ob-gyn know.
At this point, said Dr. Hicks, “you ly will be referred to a vascular surgeon. He or she can make sure you do everything you can to get your body back into excellent health.”
Find a Vascular Specialist Near You: https://vascular.org/find-specialist
The Society for Vascular Surgery® (SVS) is a 5,800-member, not-for-profit professional medical society, composed of specialty-trained vascular surgeons and professionals, which seeks to advance excellence and innovation in vascular health through education, advocacy, research and public awareness.
SOURCE Society for Vascular Surgery