Your skin may undergo all sorts of changes during pregnancy. These changes will most often disappear after you give birth.
Close to 90% of women experience skin darkening during their pregnancy. Experts aren't exactly sure why, though, it's believed that increased levels of estrogen may be the culprit. Estrogen and progesterone stimulate the pigment-producing skin cells to make more melanin, but they don't make it uniformly. There are a number of places on your body where you may notice the changes, including:
- around the navel, or belly button (when the line that travels from the navel to the pubic bone darkens it is called linea negra, or black line);
- on and around the nipples;
- in the perineum (the area between the anus and the vulva);
- on the inner thighs;
- in the armpits; and
- on the face (called chloasma).
Skin darkening is exacerbated by sunlight, so use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15. The darkened skin will usually fade after the baby is born. If it doesn't, your doctor can prescribe an ointment (for example, Lustra or hydroquinone) to lighten the discoloration.
In addition to skin darkening, you may notice other skin changes during pregnancy, such as:
Do not use tretinoin (Retin-A) or isotretinoin (Accutane) for acne, even if you have in the past. These medications are known to cause birth defects
- a "glow" to your skin -increased blood volume, peaking during the second trimester, can be seen in places such as the face, which already has a lot of blood vessels;
- Oily skin and increased perspiration -all your glands, the oil-producing and the sweat-producing ones along with the pigment-producing ones, are working harder now;
- acne -make sure you clean your face with mild soaps and scrubs;
- spider veins caused by increased blood volume and the pregnancy hormones -they're simply capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that are right below the skin's surface and are much easier to see during pregnancy. Some spider veins go away and others do not. If you are bothered by them after delivery, dermatologists can use sclerotherapy to get rid of them;
- heat rash -make sure you don't take baths or showers that are too hot. Apply cornstarch after bathing to help with this skin condition;
- itchy and red soles and palms -moisturizer can help this condition;
- an itchy and sensitive belly, particularly around the belly button where the abdomen is most stretched-try not to scratch, and apply lotion (either anti-itch or regular) to the area. If it continues to itch, talk to your doctor;
- blotchy skin on your feet and legs, often when you are cold;
- small skin tags (growths of skin) that commonly appear under your arms or breasts -they often disappear on their own, but can be removed by your doctor if they don't;
- more moles than you had before you were pregnant -these are not typically the kind that become cancerous; nevertheless, it is a good idea to show your doctor any new moles; and
- very brittle or soft fingernails -nail polish can strengthen them, and moisturizers can soften them.
You may notice that your eyesight is worse during your pregnancy or that your eyes seem drier than usual. These are normal changes in response to the pregnancy hormones. While they may be bothersome, they are usually not alarming. If you notice that your vision is blurry or dimmed, or if you experience double vision, spots, or floaters, contact your doctor immediately. These symptoms can indicate a serious condition.
Your gums will change during pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones cause your gums to be more sensitive, swollen, and likely to bleed, particularly after brushing and flossing. Tooth decay and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) are more likely to occur when you're pregnant, so it's important to take care of your teeth. The fourth month is a good time to get a dental checkup. In addition, there are a number of things you can do at home to keep your teeth in good health:
- always use a soft-bristled toothbrush;
- brush regularly and frequently, after every meal. Make sure you brush softly. Some women find it a good idea to carry a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush with them at all times;
- floss at least once a day;
- rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash;
- avoid sweets; and
- eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, like fruits and vegetables. These foods are good for your gums.
You may also find that you have tiny tender nodules on your gums. These are called "pregnancy tumors" (pyogenic granulomas) and, though, they may hurt and bleed, they are nothing to be worried about. They are not cancerous and usually will go away after delivery. Your dentist can remove them if they are really bothering you.