Pregnancy can be a wonderful and joyous time. But when it comes to the mental and physical changes a pregnant woman endures in those nine months, well, let’s just say it’s a pretty wild ride that maybe doesn’t always bring feelings of wonder and joy.
“Pregnancy is a time of stress,” says Dr Hayley Dickinson, a leading Australian research scientist with extensive experience and knowledge in reproductive physiology, pregnancy and perinatal health. “It’s a huge stress on our bodies. Our physiology changes, but there’s a psychological stress as well all of a sudden – particularly that first pregnancy. You don’t know what you’re doing, there’s no guide book; no one says ‘here’s the magic book with all of the answers in it and everything you need to know’. That just doesn’t exist. It’s probably harder now than ever before because you can punch those things into Google and get all sorts of answers – some right, sometimes they’re very off.”
A lot of things are happening to (and growing in) your body during that time, and some of those changes may leave you feeling a little out of sorts (morning sickness is just the tip of the iceberg). So whether you’re trying to get pregnant, in the early pregnancy stages, or in the third trimester, and you’re wondering why your body has (or will) forsaken you, it may make you feel better to know that these body changes when pregnant are completely and utterly 100 per cent normal.
#1 / Pigmentation
Thanks to an influx in pregnancy hormones, there are a lot of skin changes you can expect during pregnancy. While some do get that pregnancy glow, others experience the dark side of those changes. Besides hormonal breakouts, pigmentation (or melasma) is a biggie - and there’s a reason for that, says Dr Dickinson.
“A woman’s whole physiology changes during pregnancy and it’s necessary to support the growth and development of the baby. We get these surges in hormones that are primarily to help with implantation, to help the placenta develop, to help the fetus grow, but of course, they don’t just stay in the enclosed confines of the uterine cavity – they go everywhere. And so we can see other symptoms across our bodies because of those changes, and one of them can be pigmentation. Increased pigmentation can happen in women’s bodies and there’s a common term, ‘the mask of pregnancy’, where women can get quite a lot of darkened skin across their face – this is caused by the increases in estrogen and progesterone, and it’s completely harmless in most cases. If women are particularly bothered by it, it’s always worth seeing a healthcare provider just to make sure there’s nothing else going on. Most of the time – not everything is the same for every woman, of course – it’ll usually go away soon after pregnancy, [but] it can take some time to fade.”
If waiting for it to fade isn’t a good enough option for you, Zoe Foster Blake has been pretty vocal about how she manages her pregnancy melasma: she swears by Societe Brightening Serum, Aspect Pigment Punch, and regular Omnilux sessions with lactic peels. She also recommends these foundations for helping hide the darkened areas.
#2 / Constipation
Oof yeah, we get it. This is *not* a good time. And for some context, here’s why it’s happening: “Our gut becomes more efficient [during pregnancy], and we absorb more nutrients from our food. So, our gut slows down so the food has more time to sit there. Our body makes lots of changes and that slowing of the gut can be partly why women get constipation, because there’s more time for water to be taken out of the food as it’s passing through as well. These things are all normal and important for growing a baby, but they can be pretty uncomfortable for some women sometimes.”
The easiest solution here? Water, and LOTS of it.
#3 / Stretch marks and itching
It should come as no surprise that your skin has to stretch out to accommodate that growing baby, and Dr Dickinson says that while our skin can handle the stretch, it’s when it happens quickly and in addition to hormonal changes that stretch marks can come into play. “The reason we get stretch marks is that distention – the stretching of the skin – but with that increase in cortisol that happens as pregnancy progresses. What that does is affect our collagen and elastin fibres and so we get a reorganisation of those fibres and then we get that appearance of stretch marks through the area,” she says. And while you can’t necessarily avoid them, Dr Dickinson says there are things you can do to minimise the damage. “There are things you can do to support stretching skin and that would be to keep the skin hydrated. We know that when things are well hydrated, they’re more stretchy, so, if we let our skin get dry then it’s not going to maintain its supple appearance,” she explains.
Another thing hydration will help with? That incessant itching that comes with stretching. “As the skin stretches, that barrier breaks down and irritants can get in. Our skin forms that barrier to keep those nasties out and good bits in, but once that gets broken down, then irritants can get in and that’s when we get that itchy skin. Again, keeping that skin hydrated and maintaining that skin barrier can really help to reduce the itchiness,” advises Dr Dickinson.
In terms of hydration, Dr Dickinson recommends looking to those tried-and-true ingredients like rosehip oil, as well as opting for formulations that are simple and free from parabens, SLS and SLES as they can further aggravate your already-irritated skin. She recommends endota organics’ natural and COSMOS Organics-certified Nuture Moisture Rich Belly Butter to help ease dry, itchy skin and keep that soft, supple feeling alive. Other good natural and nourishing options are The Jojoba Company 100% Natural Australian Jojoba, and Trilogy Pure Plant Body Oil.
#4 / Hair growth (and then apparent hair loss)
This is one of those common pregnancy body changes that seems amazing during your three trimesters, and then after birth, you feel like you’re losing every follicle in your scalp. Here’s the thing – you’re not actually growing more hair during your pregnancy, and you’re not losing more hair than usual post-pregnancy.
“During pregnancy, you don’t grow hair – what happens is your hair slows down in its phases, so it stays in a particular phase and it just doesn’t fall out. So, you’re not growing more, it’s just not falling out. Then, at the end, once the hormones have gone back to normal, you’re filling the shower basin with hair and that can be pretty scary, too. For some women – not many – they can lose more than they usually would during that time, so they can feel like the hair gets quite thin again. That’s a conversation to have with healthcare professionals if you’re concerned that you’ve got patches of scalp that you didn’t have before; but generally speaking, it’s that you weren’t losing hair during pregnancy and now your body’s just letting go of what it otherwise normally would have. It’s okay. That’s one thing to cross off your stressing-about list,” says Dr Dickinson.
Besides wanting you to know that a lot of these changes are completely normal, Dr Dickinson stresses that you should remember what an amazing thing your body is doing. “I like to try and encourage women to think about these things as kind of a badge of honour. Your body is growing a whole other human – it takes a lot. Every organ in the woman’s body changes to accommodate that pregnancy.”
Looking for some more options to beat those stretch marks? We’ve found some of the best stretch mark treatments around.
Do you have any advice for pregnant women and their body concerns? Please share in the comments section below.
Main image credit: Getty
Carli was BEAUTYcrew’s Editor from launch in 2016 until May 2020. You can find her words right here on BEAUTYcrew, and previously on beautyheaven.