Pregnancy can affect your skin in various ways. Your skin may become dryer than usual. Or you might get breakouts, stretch marks, pigment changes or varicose veins.
Itching during pregnancy
It is not unusual to get an itchy belly during the last months of pregnancy due to the skin being stretched tight. And around 0.5% of pregnant women get pregnancy itch, primarily on the soles of their feet and palms of their hands. This is because hormones in the blood affect the liver, increasing the level of bile acid in the blood. Pregnancy itch usually starts around week 30 to 32, but may also happen earlier. It usually disappears immediately after the child is born.
If you get pregnancy itch, you may need to have a blood test to check that the bile acid level is not too high. Pregnancy itch can get quite severe and can interfere with your sleep. Cold cream and loose-fitting clothes may help ease the symptoms. There are also medicines you can take if it gets really bad. Speak to your midwife if you have severe symptoms.
Pigment spots and stretch marks
If you spend a lot of time in the sun during pregnancy, you increase the risk of getting pigment spots, for instance on your face. This is due to increased hormone levels. Your nipples and areola may also get darker.
Many women get a dark line down the centre of their belly, known as a linea nigra Like other pigment changes during pregnancy, this line usually remains for a while after the child is born but then gradually fades away.
Stretch marks, also known as striae, are probably due to hormonal changes during pregnancy.
They most commonly appear on the breasts, belly and bottom. The tendency to get stretch marks is partly hereditary. It may help to use a supportive nursing bra, since breasts usually become larger and heavier during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, creams and lotions do not prevent stretch marks. However, rubbing your belly with moisturising cream can make you more comfortable and also gives you and the baby a pleasant massage.
Varicose veins, haemorrhoids and bleeding gums
During pregnancy, the blood flow increases in your body, while the tiny muscles around your blood vessels slacken. This makes the blood vessels expand, which can cause varicose veins. The varicose veins may itch or hurt. Many pregnant women get varicose veins on their legs or in the pelvic region. It can help to occasionally sit down with your legs raised up. Compression stockings or support stockings distribute the pressure over your lower legs, increasing comfort and aiding blood circulation in your legs.
Haemorrhoids are another complication caused partly by increased blood flow and partly by the enlarged womb pressing against the veins in the abdominal and pelvic areas. This affects the veins around the anus, which increases the risk of haemorrhoids. Constipation is common during pregnancy. It can aggravate the haemorrhoids and cause them to hurt or bleed when going to the toilet.
But hang in there. After the baby is born, the haemorrhoids and varicose veins usually disappear either partially or completely. The increased blood flow in your body also makes the mucous membranes thicker and more fragile. This can cause your gums to bleed during tooth brushing or make your nose feel blocked.