How does childbirth affect my skin?

Pregnancy hormones can cause long-term changes to your skin.
Pregnancy hormones can cause long-term changes to your skin.
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From the wonderful aspects of childbirth -- the new baby -- to the not-so-wonderful aspects of childbirth -- the pain -- you have a lot on your mind during pregnancy. Skin probably isn't at the top of your priority list, but pregnancy and childbirth can have significant effects on your skin.

Stretch marks, scars caused by stretching the skin, occur in up to 90 percent of pregnant women [source: Tunzi]. Stretch marks can occur as a result of the skin's physical stretching, but they can also be caused in part by hormones. These long lines can appear on the stomach, chest, arms and thighs. They often begin as red or purple in color and then become glossy, streaked skin [source: WebMD]. There are numerous creams and lotions that can be used during pregnancy to prevent them or after pregnancy to treat them, but while stretch marks usually fade, they rarely disappear completely.

Hyperpigmentation, or darkening of the skin, is also very common during pregnancy [source: Tunzi]. The condition is harmless and is caused by an increase in melanin, the substance that gives skin its color [source: WebMD]. Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, or PUPPP, is a stomach rash that usually begins in the third trimester. The hive-type reaction begins near the bellybutton, but can spread to the thighs, breasts and buttocks. PUPPP isn't dangerous and often disappears after delivery, but it can be itchy and uncomfortable. Use steroid creams or take warm milk or oatmeal baths to relieve the discomfort. If your rash contains fluid-filled blisters, you should see your doctor immediately because this could be an autoimmune disorder called pemphigoid gestationis [source: WebMD]. Pemphigoid gestationis causes dark splotches on the stomach and can affect the baby; however, the disease is very rare, occurring in 0.002 percent of pregnancies [source: Tunzi]. Doctors typically prescribe steroid creams or antihistamines to treat the rash, but many women require oral steroids to control their symptoms [source: WebMD].

Pregnancy may also cause long-term changes in your skin type. Pregnancy hormones have been known to change normal, balanced skin, making it suddenly oily or dry. You may also develop acne, or your acne may clear up [source: Rodriguez]. Your skin may return to normal after childbirth, but it may remain in its new state for the rest of your life. And a subsequent childbirth may change your skin even more.

With a task as complex and delicate as growing a new life, it's no wonder that pregnancy and childbirth can have an effect on your skin. To learn more about the effects of pregnancy and childbirth on skin, visit the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Rodriguez, Lisa and Marjorie Greenfield. "Skin and Hair Changes During Pregnancy." Dr. Spock. (Accessed 8/11/09),1510,4519,00.html
  • Tunzi, Marc and Gary Gray."Common Skin Conditions During Pregnancy." American Family Physician. January 15, 2007. (Accessed 8/11/09)
  • WebMD. "Pregnancy Skin Care: Get That Glow!" (accessed 9/1/2009)
  • WebMD. "Skin Conditions: Hyperpigmentation and Hypopigmentation." (accessed 9/1/2009)
  • WebMD. "Your Skin and Stretch Marks." (accessed 9/1/2009)