Pregnancy and you blog

Skin changes during pregnancy: What to expect

By Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M. June 25, 2011

During pregnancy, it can seem like your body changes from head to toe — or at least from breasts to ankles. Pregnancy even affects your skin, thanks to hormonal shifts, adjustments in blood flow and other mechanical changes.

Often, changes with pigmentation are among the most pronounced skin changes during pregnancy. The area around your nipples might darken. The same thing can happen with the skin on your inner thighs and genitals. You might notice a dark line from your navel to your pubic bone. Dark patches might develop on your face, particularly along the cheek bone and upper lip. This is known as chloasma or mask of pregnancy. Although these skin changes aren't preventable, chloasma can get worse with sun exposure. Stay in the shade when you can. If you must be in the sun, use plenty of sunscreen.

For some women, acne also ranks highly among skin changes during pregnancy — likely another effect of hormonal changes. The best thing I've found to do in early pregnancy is to wash your face with a mild cleanser twice a day. Be careful to keep your hair off your face, and don't rest your face on your hands. Stick to oil-free cosmetics. If your acne is really getting the best of you, check with your health care provider. He or she might recommend an over-the-counter or prescription skin cream.

Other skin changes during pregnancy are related to increased blood flow. For example, you might notice the palms of your hands look red. Varicose veins — which will regress after pregnancy but might not go away completely — are another common complaint.

Then, of course, you have the ever-dreaded stretch marks. Although a few lucky women manage to avoid this classic badge of pregnancy, most pregnant women experience some degree of stretch marks — especially on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, buttocks and thighs. If you're lured by ads for products that claim to prevent or treat stretch marks, resist the temptation to indulge. Although these products probably aren't harmful, they're not likely to help much, either.

Above all, remember that most skin changes during pregnancy will improve or resolve within about three months after the baby is born. If you're concerned about lingering skin changes, ask your health care provider about cosmetic treatments.

Jun. 25, 2011