As if growing a baby doesn’t alter your appearance enough, your body’s skin also undergoes numerous changes. Here’s how to deal with these common, typically temporary conditions.
Darkened Skin and Acne
During pregnancy, your cheeks, nose and forehead may develop brown coloring. This is known as chloasma, or “the mask of pregnancy.” It’s also normal for your nipples to become darker and to have a dark line on your abdomen from your navel down to your pubic bone. Don’t worry: The hormone that causes this pigmentation surge will decrease after your baby is born and the discoloration will fade or disappear. In the meantime, avoid excessive sun, which may deepen skin coloring.
Some women have a problem with acne or skin breakouts during pregnancy (thanks again, hormones). Continue washing your face as you normally would, and don’t take any oral acne medications without your healthcare provider’s advice.
In preparation for feeding your baby, your breasts expand as milk glands enlarge and fatty tissue increases. Breasts may become tender and more sensitive and may tingle with temperature change or touch. As your blood supply increases, the breasts’ blood vessels enlarge, and bluish veins may appear. The areola and nipple also darken and the small pores around the areola enlarge.
You might notice a substance leaking from the nipple in the last three months of pregnancy. This is colostrum, the substance produced before breast milk. If you don’t leak colostrum, don’t worry; that’s normal, too.
To care for your breasts:
- Wear a supportive bra to ease the strain on your breasts and back muscles as your breasts become heavy. You may be more comfortable sleeping in a bra.
- Wear disposable or washable breast pads if you’re leaking colostrum.
- If you’re leaking, allow your breasts to air-dry a few times a day and after a shower.
- Avoid soap on your areola and nipple, as this tends to dry out the skin. Use warm water to keep the area clean.
- Cotton bras are preferable to synthetic fabrics because cotton allows the skin to breathe.
- If you plan to nurse your baby, your nursing bras will probably be about one cup size larger than those you need in late pregnancy. Purchase nursing bras in the ninth month.
Itchy skin during pregnancy is usually caused by hormones and the stretching of your growing abdomen. Dry skin or eczema might become worse during pregnancy.
To reduce itchy skin:
- Avoid hot showers, which dries out skin.
- Use lots of lotion; unscented is better.
- Take an oatmeal bath once or twice a week.
- Wear loose clothing.
- Avoid going out in the heat of the day.
Some women may develop welts in the last month or two of pregnancy. They usually begin on the stomach and later spread to the thighs and upper arms. This can be very itchy but won’t harm you or your baby. Ask your healthcare provider about topical ointments to relieve the itching.
Contact your doctor if you have severe itching with no rash in the last month or two of pregnancy.
About 90 percent of pregnant women develop stretch marks. There is nothing you can put on your skin to prevent them.
Stretch marks are a type of scar tissue that forms when the skin’s normal elasticity isn’t sufficient to accommodate the stretching required during pregnancy. Weight gain in pregnancy is the most common cause. Stretch marks occur most often on the abdomen, but some women also develop them on their thighs, upper arms and breasts.
Fair-haired women, blondes and redheads tend to have red-looking stretch marks. Brunettes may get them as well. Although stretch marks may not disappear entirely after delivery, those that remain usually fade to a lighter, silvery color.
It’s normal to experience swelling of the feet, legs and hands. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases approximately 40 percent and your body naturally holds water, so your heart needs to work harder to circulate this extra fluid.
For about one in three women, swelling of the hands and feet occurs during the last three months of pregnancy and is often greater during hot weather. Some swelling or puffiness is not unusual or serious, but it can be uncomfortable.
However, puffiness of the eyelids, face and fingers when accompanied by high blood pressure, headaches, or spotty or blurred vision may signal a serious condition called preeclampsia. Be aware of the warning signs and contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have these symptoms. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related condition and requires immediate medical attention.
To ease normal swelling:
- Eat foods high in protein, such as beans, cheese, fish, meat, poultry and tofu.
- Try to avoid standing for long periods of time.
- Drink the fresh juice of a lemon in a cup of warm water to help decrease fluid retention.
- Rest two or three times a day with your legs elevated higher than your heart. Lying down on your left side is better for circulation.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing, such as pants, leotards and knee-high stockings.
- Exercise regularly by walking or swimming.
- Try submerging in water to your shoulders. The water should be no warmer than body temperature.
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed. Use a footstool when sitting and perform ankle circles whenever possible.
- Check your fluid intake and drink when thirsty.
Don’t take diuretics or “water pills.” These can cause an imbalance in your body’s salt and potassium levels, and this can be dangerous for you and your baby.
Varicose (swollen) veins develop from weak areas in the walls of blood vessels, typically in the leg and groin area. This is common during pregnancy due to the pressure and weight of the baby and uterus.
Here’s how to minimize varicose veins:
- Exercise regularly. Walking and swimming are ideal for improving circulation.
- Avoid tight or binding clothing, especially knee-high stockings, which may decrease blood circulation.
- Wear support hose when you plan to stand or walk for a long time.
- Put them on before getting out of bed in the morning. Some health insurance policies may pay for support hose if you have a prescription.
- Avoid standing or sitting in one place for long periods of time.
- During long car, plane, train or bus trips, be sure to get up occasionally and walk around.
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed, as this decreases the circulation in your legs.
- Put your feet on a footstool when sitting.
- Lie down with your feet elevated above heart level several times a day.
- Wear well-padded shoes with low heels.
- If you can’t exercise at any time during your pregnancy, consider isometric exercises to promote circulation.