Why is my skin so itchy? Is there anything I can do about it? And what about stretch marks? Are they really preventable?
As part of the miraculous journey of pregnancy, the skin of a mother-to-be will go through many changes. These are a result of increased circulation and hormonal functions designed to help nourish and support the new baby's growth, as well as readying the new mama for 9 months of bodily changes and a healthy delivery. For many women, pregnancy is heralded by circulation increases in the tiny vessels under the skin — often this is welcomed as the 'healthy glow' of pregnancy.
Normal skin changes will include stretching, darkening of certain areas, itchiness, and hair and nail changes. Many of these are driven in part by changes in estrogen, progesterone and melanocyte stimulating hormone. Striae gravidarum, also known as 'stretch marks', are very common in about 95% of women who become pregnant. A number of factors play a role in who will have visible stretch marks, and these factors include genetics, current health, nutrient and hydration status, as well as the physical distance the skin needs to stretch.
As a naturopathic doctor, I recommend focusing on healthy food and lifestyle choices for best physical and emotional health. In general, skin problems of any kind are greatly related to internal health — so the main focus should be to keep the body healthy on the inside for best results on the outside. Once pregnant, it is crucial to eat healthy whole foods and avoid excess sugar, dairy products and fried foods. It is also important to drink plenty of water, keep up levels of exercise, eat healthy essential fatty acids, and a quality prenatal with adequate vitamin C.
In fear of permanent stretch marks, many women undertake the ritual of applying creams, lotions and oils to prevent them. One German study suggested that about two thirds of women who do not use this method are more prone to stretch marks, while only one third of women who use a massage oil or cream tended to get the striae. Given that elasticity and stretching are a physical issue, using daily applications can greatly improve the skin's flexibility and suppleness to help decrease the chance of stretch marks. In my practice, and as an expecting mama myself, I find the levels of success for my patients are highest when a healthful lifestyle, diet, and exercise regimen are employed in conjunction with massage oil application.
It concerns me that most topical products on the market contain a number of preservatives, chemicals, perfumes and dyes. Since the mother's skin circulation is heightened and large surface areas are covered with these lotion applications, these chemicals can easily enter the body and end up in the mother's and fetal tissue. In a study by the Environmental Working Group, scientists identified over 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from babies born in U.S. hospitals. Further analysis revealed umbilical blood harbored pesticides, consumer product ingredients (like paraben preserved lotions which are linked to breast cancers), particulates from burning fossil fuels, and garbage.
In conclusion, a healthy pregnancy and skin should include a good whole foods diet, plenty of water, exercise, sleep, daily oil applications, and avoidance of any chemical exposures. This will ensure great benefits to new baby and mama.
Wierrani F. et al. Attempt of preventive treatment of striae gravidarum using preventive massage ointment administration Wien Klin Wochenshr 1992;104(2):42-4.
Evironmental Working Group Body Burden — The Pollution in Newborns, July 2005. https://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns#.WjrhuXlG270 accessed on January 4, 2007
Harvey PW et al. Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours.J. Appl Toxicol 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):1-4