Common Skin Changes During Pregnancy

By:    Published: November 27, 2012

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During the 40-odd weeks of pregnancy, a woman's body undergoes tremendous physical changes, some of which can be divided by the first, second or third trimester. While some changes aren't outwardly noticeable, such as a slight growth in a woman’s feet, other changes are. Since we all wear our skin on the outside, skin changes during pregnancy can be quite noticeable, though most will disappear shortly after the baby is born. Here are some of the more common skin changes a woman will experience during pregnancy.

Stretch Marks

Perhaps the most well-known, and most loathed of all the skin changes that occur during pregnancy, stretch marks occur in a whopping 90 percent of pregnancies to some degree, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Stretch marks, technically called striae, begin deep within the skin, where hormonal changes cause the elastic fibers of the skin to weaken. The result is the reddish or purplish lightning bolt shaped marks that become bothersome to many women.

[Related: The 5 Most Common Causes Of Stretch Marks]

There are many so-called "prevention" techniques to keep a woman from getting stretch marks, but none have been validated by science. However, most experts agree that trying the variousstretch mark creams and lotions on the market is safe, and if they happen to work, that's great. Otherwise, there are cosmetic procedures available that may help to treat them, but they can be rather costly and should never be done during pregnancy. The good news is that, over time, stretch marks will fade and become less noticeable.

Melasma

Another very common skin change associated with pregnancy is something called melasma. Also called chloasma or the "mask of pregnancy," it is characterized by the darkening of areas of skin on the face, resulting in a mask-like appearance.

Melasma is more common in younger women with darker complexions, but sun exposure does play a role in the development of the dark patches. These patches appear on the face, and while they aren't anything serious, they can cause some cosmetic concerns, especially if the skin doesn't darken symmetrically (though it usually does).

Treatment for melasma is usually not needed, as the skin's color returns to normal shortly after giving birth. It's important to know that melasma is also common in women who use birth control pills. If the melasma continues, there are treatments available to help improve the skin's appearance.

Linea Nigra

Linea nigra, which translates from Latin as "black line," is a skin change during pregnancy most common in women with darker skin tones. It is a dark line that appears on the lower abdomen between the navel and the pubic bone. The line is always there, but it is usually not noticeable because it is light. Hormone changes associated with pregnancy cause the line to darken in some women, typically around the fourth or fifth month. There is nothing that can be done about this particular skin change. It will fade on its own after the baby is born.

Acne

As if acne during puberty wasn't bad enough, it can make an encore appearance during pregnancy. Hormones cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, the oily substance that can make skin appear shiny. However, the excess sebum can also cause skin to become irritated and pores to become blocked, causing breakouts.

Following a skin care regime can keep acne breakouts to a minimum. Also, topical medications, such asbenzoyl peroxide orsalicylic acid are safe to use during pregnancy. Oral medications are not considered safe for use during pregnancy and in some cases can cause severe birth defects. If acne becomes problematic, your doctor can recommend a treatment that is safe for both you and your child.

Skin Tags

All those hormones associated with pregnancy help a baby to grow. They can also cause excess skin cells to grow on Mom as well, which leads to annoying skin tags. These skin growths are benign tumors that can occur on any part of the body, but are most common in areas of folds or creases or where skin rubs together, such as under arms. There are options available to remove the skin tags, though they vary based upon the size and location of the tag. A dermatologist will recommend the best option.

Pregnancy Glow

Some pregnant women are said to "glow" and while this glow may be difficult to define for some women, when it comes to skin, there are a couple of factors that can contribute to the pregnant glow. First, during pregnancy, a woman's blood volume will increase by 50 percent, which means that there is more blood circulating to the body's tissues, including the face. Second, the pregnancy hormones cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, which can make skin appear oily or shiny. There is really nothing to be done about the pregnancy glow, but good skin care can keep the extra oil from becoming a problem.

Varicose Veins

Typically thought of as a problem for older people, varicose veins can appear during pregnancy. The reason is that the body is trying to compensate for all the extra blood flow that is going to the baby. These bulging, bluish veins are rarely a cause for concern, but they can be unsightly and even painful. But there are things that can be done to help prevent them, or to keep them to a minimum if they do appear:

  • Avoid sitting or standing still for long periods of time
  • Prop feet up when sitting
  • Elevate feet above the head for at least half an hour each day
  • Keep weight gain under control
  • Walk as much as possible. This helps return blood to the heart.
  • Wear support stockings
  • Get enough vitamin C to keep veins elastic

[Related: A Guide To Varicose Veins During Pregnancy]

Dry Or Itchy Skin

As the baby grows, the expectant mother’s skin can become tight, leading to dry and itchy skin. While it is rarely anything to be concerned about, it can be uncomfortable. However, if the itching is accompanied by nausea or vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite or jaundice, it could be a sign of a liver problem called cholestasis, and the expectant mother should let her doctor know immediately. Cholestasis occurs in about 1 in 50 pregnancies.

Another problem that can cause itchy skin during pregnancy is a condition called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques, or PUPPs for short. This is an exceptionally itchy rash with raised bumps that appears on the abdomen, and can spread to the arms and legs.

To help relieve itching, keep skin moisturized. Over-the-counter itch relieving creams may also help as well as oatmeal baths or moisturizing oil baths. If the itching is unbearable, a doctor may be able to prescribe other oral medications as well.

Skin Darkening

Those pesky pregnancy hormones play a role in the darkening of areas of pigmented skin, such as areolas and nipples as well as freckles and moles. There is nothing that can be done to prevent this darkening, and it is a completely normal change. In some cases, this change in pigment can remain after pregnancy, but it is rarely problematic. Any mole or freckle that changes in shape or appearance should be evaluated by a doctor however, because this could be a sign of skin cancer.

Most of the skin changes during pregnancy are temporary and will disappear shortly after the baby's birth. These skin changes are just another part of this wonderful rite of passage into motherhood.

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