Pregnancy to post-birth

Your pregnant body

A pregnant woman’s body undergoes an incredible transformation with terrific changes occurring literally every second. These changes are nothing less than miraculous and they’re all perfectly designed to keep mother and baby in optimal health. Unfortunately, there can be downsides attached to these changes. However, with the right approach, even they can be reversed or at the very least minimised.

While some women experience the radiance of “pregnancy glow”, it eludes others. Is it a myth? No, says author of Radiant Health, Radiant Skin, Alison Cassar. “Hormones can swing either way: the surge can give your skin radiance or it can contribute to skin problems. She adds, “Feeling positive and embracing the profound changes going on inside your body also help you radiate from the inside out.”

Starting your pregnancy in optimal health helps safeguard against beauty problems. For example, ensuring you have healthy teeth and gums at the beginning of pregnancy reduces the risk of dental problems for the mother later on. A growing baby will take calcium from its mother for bone and tooth growth.

However, many pregnancies are unplanned and if that’s the case with yours, don’t be alarmed. Healthy eating throughout your pregnancy will also help to minimise cosmetic dilemmas.

Sugar is infamous for robbing the body of much-needed nutrients including vitamin C, which is essential for good health and radiant beauty. If you’re craving a sweet snack, grab an apple or a date rather than a chocolate bar.

Eating a good wholesome breakfast with some source of protein (such as eggs on wholegrain toast) will sustain your energy levels throughout the morning and help thwart sweet cravings. “This will also help with morning sickness,” says Alison, as it is linked to low blood-sugar levels — when you’re tired or haven’t eaten, it tends to get worse.”

Morning sickness can make you feel the worse for wear. It usually passes in the second trimester. Alison says other helpers include vitamin B6 and ginger tea.

Stretch marks are the pinkish, purple lines that may appear as your skin stretches to accommodate your growing baby. Some women see them as badges of honour, while others fret over their appearance. If you’re one of the latter, take heart. There are solutions.

“Stretch marks may be prevented by ensuring that you supplement adequately with zinc and vitamin C with bio-flavonoids,” says Francesca Naish, co-author of The Natural Way to a Better Pregnancy (Doubleday, $32.95). “Zinc is an essential nutrient in the formation of collagen, which is a component of all connective tissue.”

Chicken soup, preferably made with organic chicken, will nourish both you and your baby and keep your skin hydrated, plus it’s rich in minerals and amino acids to help support connective tissue (see Healthy Skin Diet pg 40).

Taking a probiotic supplement throughout both pregnancy and breast-feeding helps to keep both your skin and hair healthy by supporting digestive health (see A Beautiful Gut pg 6). It has the added benefit of stimulating immunoglobulin, a substance that helps defend the body against allergens. This is transferred to the baby via the blood or through breastmilk. Studies show this may help to protect the baby from eczema and allergy in infancy.

Women who take probiotics during their first trimester of pregnancy may also be less likely to suffer from the unhealthiest form of obesity after giving birth, according to research. A study by scientists at the University of Turku in Finland suggests that manipulating the balance of bacteria in the gut may help to fight obesity.

Other important nutrients for skin integrity are essential fatty acids, says Francesca. You’ll find these in deep-sea fish and evening primrose and flaxseed oils. Vitamin E and silica are also nutrients that have a positive effect on skin condition.

Your skin needs nourishment from the inside. But once you have that covered, you might like to consider gently massaging your breasts and belly with natural, unrefined oils such as olive, vitamin E, wheatgerm, jojoba, avocado, sweet almond or sesame, or shea butter. “This is probably one of the best steps to prevent stretch marks,” says Alison, who recommends rubbing in oil in twice a day. Lanolin, comfrey, St John’s wort and calendula ointments are also good options, says Francesca.

A common skin condition in pregnancy is pigmentation, also known as “the mask of pregnancy”. This condition, medically referred to as chloasma, is due to increased levels of hormones during pregnancy. The marks usually appear on the face as brown splotches. Chloasma is intensified by exposure to sunlight. If you have this condition, you should restrict sun exposure, using hats and physical sunblocks containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Homoeopathic remedies for pigmentation include calc sulph., silica and sepia.

Dr Gavin Chan of the Victorian Cosmetic Institute says treatments normally recommended for this type of pigmentation, such as retinoids and laser, should be avoided until post-baby and probably post-breastfeeding. He recommends wearing a hat and applying sunblock.

Rosehip oil can be helpful, says Alison. It’s not only rich in essential fatty acids that help repair and plump up skin cells, but it also naturally contains trans-retinoic acid, which helps normalise the turnover of skin cells and may help with pigmentation.

Hormones can promote acne, too, says Dr Chan. Again, he stresses that retinoids and any other vitamin A cream or derivative should be avoided. Instead, he recommends a mild gel cleanser and a natural alphahydroxy acid such as lactic acid in a serum or moisturiser. Salicylic acid, a betahydroxy acid, should also be avoided in pregnancy.

Doctors, other health practitioners and hair colourists generally recommend abstaining from colouring your hair for the first three months of pregnancy both for safety reasons (hair dyes contain some of the worst chemicals, see Junk Food for the Skin pg 52) and because you may be more sensitive to the fumes. If you decide to get a hair colour, ask the colourist not to let the colour touch the scalp and other skin to prevent absorption of chemicals into the bloodstream. There are some safer hair colours on the market. Look for those that are ammonia-, coal-tar derivative- (such as PPD) and peroxide-free. If possible, use vegetable-based dyes.

Varicose veins can pop up during pregnancy because of the increased pressure on the veins. The pressure sends reflux back down the legs where it disrupts the valve. The abnormal vein becomes a “varicose” vein. Dr Chan says compression garments can be used temporarily. They work by helping the blood flow become directed back to the heart. Elevating the feet higher than the hips when sitting helps blood flow back to the heart, too.

Alison says diet can assist in strengthening the walls of the veins. Eat a high-fibre diet rich in whole grains and fruit and vegetables. “Dark-coloured berries such as blueberries, cherries and blackberries contain anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins — pigments that tone and strengthen the walls of the veins.”

Gentle regular exercise is important during pregnancy for the health of you and your baby. Yoga helps keep you both toned, flexible and relaxed throughout your pregnancy. Pilates is also effective for helping to prevent postural aches and pains, including lower back pain. Pilates instructor Renee Scott of Balance Moves in Sydney says it helps you hold body weight better, minimises circulation problems and joint inflammation and strengthens the pelvic floor. “Practising Pilates throughout pregnancy helps your body bounce back a lot quicker after the birth,” she says.

Skin growths or “tags” are common during pregnancy and are a result of hormonal activity. Dr Chan says these are harmless and can be easily zapped with laser after you have given birth. Note: It’s always good to get any skin growth or change in skin checked by your doctor.

Any mum or mum-to-be will tell you there’s itchiness. This is usually due to the stretching of the skin as the body expands. Yellow dock tea can help or bathing in tepid water with added rosemary, comfrey, dandelion or lavender (herbs or oils) may be of some benefit, says Francesca.

Finally, pamper yourself. Look at it as a necessity, not a luxury. Apply a fresh papaya mask and lie down for 10 minutes, go for a long walk along the beach or have a pregnancy massage. Take time out for you.

Your post-pregnant body

Your post-birth body will need lots of tender, loving care. Skin may be dry or cracked or simply sensitive to the touch. Be kind to yourself and apply plenty of natural creams and oils all over. As you do so, you might like to remind yourself that you have just brought a new human being into the world and that’s nothing short of a miracle.

If possible, embrace breastfeeding. Besides giving your baby all that goodness, it helps contract the uterus and bring your abdomen area back into shape.

You might now be even more aware of any stretch marks you may have developed during pregnancy. If that’s the case, don’t fret. Simply follow the recommendations listed above. Eventually, the marks (or awesome battle scars, depending on how you want to look at them) will fade to a gentle silvery-white colour and they may even disappear completely. If they don’t fade enough for your liking, there’s always the option of laser treatment.

You may also have developed some broken capillaries. These tiny red vessels frequently dot the noses and cheeks of pregnant women and new mothers. This is to some degree a product of ageing but also because, during pregnancy and new motherhood, hormones fluctuate wildly. Combine that with increased blood volume and, presto, tiny red threads start showing up all over.

You can fade these with the help of a gentle skincare regime and a healthy diet, including plenty of fresh, organically grown berries. Berries, in particular blueberries, raspberries and cranberries contain a high level of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols. These protect the circulatory system. “This means they work to strengthen those leaky capillary walls on the nose and cheeks,” says Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute.

If you’re still not satisfied, there are always IPL (intense pulsed light) treatments. This breakthrough technology involves a light emitted in a series of pulses over the entire face. Doctor Benjamin Norris, plastic surgeon at Silkwood Medical, says most women will need a series of four to six treatments, depending on skin condition. He also recommends broad-spectrum sun protection and willow herb as an anti-inflammatory.

Don’t be alarmed if your hair falls out post-baby. It’s very common.  Pregnancy changes in your hormone levels cause your hair to stay in a resting place for longer, so you lose less hair on a daily basis. After you’ve given birth and your hormones have balanced, more hair shifts into a shedding phase. You may even find it comes out by the handful. There is little you can do about this except be patient.

Within six months, your hair should be back to its normal pre-pregnancy thickness, but you may find the texture of your hair is different. The hormonal upheaval may have made it straighter, wavier, oilier or drier than before. If hair loss doesn’t seem to be slowing down after six months, check with your healthcare practitioner, as it may be a sign you are low in iron, which can be common in new mothers.

Your beautiful baby

Many new mums feel overwhelmed by the experience of giving birth. Some fall in love with their babies straight away and for others it can be a slower process. There is no right or wrong and each new mother finds her way in her own time. Holding and touching your baby will help encourage the bonding process.

In terms of skin and hair care, don’t fall for the hype. Babies don’t need perfumed lotions and potions; in fact, they’re often full of chemicals that can compromise the health of the baby’s skin. At this stage, simple and gentle is definitely the healthiest way to go.

Vernix caseosa is the white, waxy-looking substance that covers your newborn baby. It’s made up of both skin oil and dead skin cells that the baby has shed in the womb and helps protect the baby from dehydration. Resist the urge to get your baby nice and clean. If the vernix is left intact, the newborn will have more hydrated skin and will also be well protected, as this wonder coating contains anti-microbials that are active against certain strains of bacteria. In some cultures, the vernix is used as a moisturiser and massaged into the baby’s skin. It usually disappears after a couple of days.

“A newborn has no need of soap,” says Dr Miriam Stoppard, author of New Babycare — A Practical Guide to the First Three Years (DK/Penguin, $35). “It is dehydrating and your baby’s skin is delicate. She needs to preserve all the natural oils so use only water until about six weeks.”

After that, you may want to try a gentle liquid soap designed for babies.

If you plan to wash your baby’s hair (many mothers prefer to just gently pour water over the head instead), use an all-natural chemical-free shampoo designed for little ones. If you’re concerned about cradle cap, pour a little shampoo onto a soft bristle brush and softly scrub the scalp. If cradle cap continues to develop, smear a little olive oil onto the scalp and wash it off the following morning. “This will dissolve any scales, making them soft, loose and easy to wash away,” says Miriam.

After you’ve washed your baby, pat her dry with a soft towel, taking care not to miss any areas — moist creases may lead to irritations. Don’t use talcum powder, which should be avoided. Not only does it contain ingredients that are in question for their toxic profile, but babies can inhale particles of the powder, which can result in choking or chest infection. A baby with asthma or a respiratory problem could become seriously ill.

If you wish to apply any type of lotion to your baby’s skin or you feel she may benefit from one, again opt for a natural or organic product if at all possible. Unrefined vegetable oils such as olive, apricot kernel or jojoba oils can be enough to keep the baby’s skin soft and supple and well protected. African women massage their babies with shea butter to keep their limbs strong and resilient.

A baby’s skin should be gently patted dry, not rubbed, using a warm towel. Make sure the areas of skin folds are also dried to prevent the areas from becoming sore.

Finally, don’t forget the incredible power of breastmilk. It’s rich in lauric acid, a super nutrient that helps fight infection. If your baby has any skin issues, try breastmilk as a topical agent. Of course, if the skin is very irritated, seek the advice of your doctor.

Safety for you and your baby

Some over-the-counter and even some natural skincare products are not safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women or for new babies. Our advice is don’t apply anything unless you have the go-ahead from your GP or health practitioner. If you’re still unsure about a product, call the head office of the company that produces it.

“Go to the source and ask what’s in the product and whether it’s OK for you to use it while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding,” says Sally Wheat, whose company Hot Mama distributes Belli Skin Care, a pregnancy and new mother Beauty range.

“Ask lots of questions and make sure you get answers.”

NB: Talk to a qualified herbalist, naturopath or GP and get advice before applying any herbs and oils or taking supplements. Despite being natural, many may not be safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women or new babies.



A pregnancy must

Folic acid is necessary to make foetal cells and for the development of the brain and spinal cord of the baby. Alison Cassar says the recommended dose is 500mg a day. “It’s also essential nutrients for the health of the skin, nails and hair of the mother,” she adds. New research shows that pregnant women are low in vitamin D and iodine, important for the health of both mum and baby. Talk to your doctor or health practitioner about possible (and safe) supplementation.



The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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