Pregnancy causes changes in just about every part of the body. Some changes, like changes to the skin, are more obvious than others and even though they are normal, they can still sometimes cause concern.
Here are some of the normal changes to the skin that can happen during pregnancy.
Increased skin pigmentation.
It is thought that the hormones of pregnancy stimulate special skin cells called melanocytes. These are the cells responsible for the amount of pigmentation or colour in our skin. Some women will experience a greater degree of change than others, depending on their ethnic background and geographic location (outback Australia as compared to London in winter). Reassuringly, most of the increase in pigmentation reduces after childbirth
Usually, the increased skin pigmentation in pregnancy occurs in specific locations
- A line between the umbilicus (belly button) and pubic bone (occasionally extending to the breast bone) called “linea nigra”
- The face (“melasma” or “mask of pregnancy”) occurring on the upper, middle or lower portions of the face
- The nipples, armpits and groin
- The inner thighs and neck
Changes in blood vessels
Due to the dilation of blood vessels in response to the hormones of pregnancy, some visible changes occur in the skin such as
- Redness of the palms
- Varicose veins (may occur in the legs, vulvar area or as haemorrhoids)
- Spider naevi (small spider like red markings, typically on the upper body)
One of the most common, but unwanted, changes that occurs in the skin is stretch marks (striae gravidarum). This occurs due to stretching of the skin as the womb expands and, just like elastic in your favourite pair of track pants, once the elastic fibres in the skin are damaged they don’t function like they used to. Typically they start out with a red colour, and then fade to skin colour and may eventually appear silvery.
Unfortunately, there are no proven ways to prevent or treat the stretch marks of pregnancy and while they don’t go away entirely, most do fade over time.
Increased itchiness may be a normal symptom of pregnancy or may be a symptom of an underlying condition that needs treatment. If you have itchiness all over or any associated rash, you should see your doctor for assessment.
For symptom relief, keeping the skin well hydrated with non-perfumed moisturisers and avoiding scratching are important. Sometimes a mild antihistamine is required to relieve the itch.
The above information doesn’t take the place of a medical consultation so please seek further advice if your symptoms continue to concern you.