You expect your abdomen to grow during pregnancy — and perhaps your breasts, too — but the following physical changes may take you by surprise. As with many pregnancy changes, hormones and genetics play a major role in most of these changes in your looks.
Thicker, more luxurious hair
This is kind of an illusion. You’re not actually growing more hair, just losing less than you normally do. Everyone loses 100 or more hairs per day, but during pregnancy this rate slows down. Your body sheds hair much more slowly than it did before, causing a net gain and thicker, fuller looking hair.
What to do: If thicker hair is desirable, enjoy it. If it’s making your mane more unruly than ever, ask your stylist to do some thinning at your next visit. These changes won’t last forever. After your baby’s born, you’ll start to lose this excess hair, sometime dramatically, in a condition called telogen effluvium that can last up to a year. But that is a topic for another day.
Increased body hair
Sex hormones known as androgens can cause new hair to grow on your chin, upper lip, jaw and cheeks. Stray hairs can also occur on your stomach, arms, legs and back. Talk to your doctor about the safest ways to get rid of the excess hair.
Your fingernails may grow more quickly than usual, and you may notice changes in texture. Some women’s nails get harder while others’ get softer, curved or more brittle.
What to do: Protect your nails by wearing rubber gloves when you’re cleaning and using moisturizer on them if they’re brittle. There are topical nail protectants called Dermanail that also strengthen and protect the nails.
In general, things that grow do so faster, and things that are dark get darker. Some pregnant women report that their skin has never looked better. If that’s you, enjoy the proverbial “glow.” Others find the hormones of pregnancy aggravate skin conditions such as acne. Hormones control acne, and it can get both better and worse during pregnancy.
Also, hormones can cause blood vessels to grow during pregnancy, so you may notice little red spots on your palms, arms, face and chest known as spider angiomas. These can easily be removed with a laser after you deliver if they bother you. Also, the palms can become very warm and red, a condition called palmar erythema.
Also, small bleeding vascular growths can occur anywhere, but most commonly on the gums. This condition is called granuloma gravidarum and usually resolves after pregnancy, but may require removal by your doctor. Finally, there is an increased incidence of hemorrhoids during pregnancy. Your doctor can best recommend soothing treatments.
As your abdomen expands to accommodate your growing baby, you may get tiny tears in the supportive tissue that lies in the middle layer of your skin, resulting in lines or “stretch marks” of varying color. The medical term for this is striae distensae. These marks will begin to fade and become considerably less noticeable about six to 12 months after you give birth.
Heredity is responsible for the natural elasticity of your skin and plays a role in determining who will end up with stretch marks. I recommend using Cetaphil Cream three times daily during pregnancy to reduce stretch marks and using AmLactin Ultra twice daily after delivery to reduce the appearance of the stretch marks. We also use lasers and special scar creams to make them look better.
Next week: Still more surprising pregnancy facts
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.