By Lola Augustine Brown
Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but Sarah Balsley of Halifax says she certainly didn’t feel lovely during her pregnancy with her son Riley, 2. “My straight hair went curly, but only on one side of my head. It looked like I had gotten my hair permed but they’d forgotten to do the other side. And I grew a fluid-filled sack that rather resembled a tiny testicle stuck on the side of my left leg,” says Balsley. “I did not feel pretty.”
There is no doubt that most pregnant women do have a certain glow during pregnancy. Sadly, it doesn’t last the entire nine months. “Thanks to surging hormones, pretty much everyone who gets pregnant will see some kind of change to their skin, hair or nails,” says Toronto dermatologist Dr. Benjamin Barankin. “That glow we talk about may only be present for a few weeks.”
During pregnancy your skin can change in a number of worrisome ways. Up to 90 percent of women suffer from pigmentation changes, which can leave dark areas on your face, neck and already heavily pigmented areas (such as nippls). The scientific term for this condition is melasma, or the “mask of pregnancy.”
“If you are Asian or Hispanic or someone in your family had issues with pigmentation, then you are at higher risk of developing melasma,” says Dr. Barankin. “But as this is caused by higher estrogen levels reacting with sunlight, you can protect yourself by wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 45 or higher, and by wearing a good hat to protect your face.”
If you do develop melasma, don’t panic, as the dark patches usually fade after the pregnancy, and if they don’t disappear completely they can be treated with prescription bleaching creams.
Skin tags, which can appear everywhere from eyelids to under the arms, and all other strange lumps and bumps, like Balsley’s “tiny testicle,” will fall off after you give birth, says Dr. Barankin. Or, as in Balsley’s case, the doctor will wait to see if it falls off by itself after birth, and if not, remove it. “These bumps that develop as a result of pregnancy are rarely cancerous, but if you have a visible growth that really bothers you, have it examined by a dermatologist to determine what it is and if it can be removed under local anesthetic. These problems are really common and there are lots of pregnancy-safe treatments we can recommend.”
Unfortunately, you’ll have to just put up with whatever shenanigans your hair gets up to, but be reassured that in most cases everything goes back to normal eventually. If the hair on your head thins, it should thicken right back up postpartum. Ditto with any body hair that grows where you don’t want it — it should just fall out eventually (Dr. Barankin recommends waiting six months before considering laser hair removal for this reason).
However, if your hair becomes too unmanageable to bear when you are pregnant, talk to your stylist, because sometimes a new ‘do can really help. “Getting a more textured cut will help to control thickness and sometimes the right cut will help to hide any hair loss you might experience,” says Jay Wells, owner of Jay Wells Salon in Halifax.
Thanks to increased hormones and blood flow, pregnant women are at higher risk of developing gingivitis, which can lead to swollen and bleeding gums. More seriously, “Scientific research has shown that there may be a link between periodontal disease and preterm, low birth-weight babies,” says Dr. Deborah Stymiest, president of the Canadian Dental Association. During pregnancy is a critical time to observe good oral hygiene, says Dr. Stymiest. “A lot can be done to prevent gingivitis through regular flossing and brushing at home, but regular visits to the dentist before and throughout pregnancy can reduce the risks associated with gum disease,” she says.
As terrible as this list of complaints seems, not everyone’s pregnancy sabotages their good looks. “Some conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema, may see improvement, and thick glossy hair is a common side effect of all those pregnancy hormones,” says Dr. Barankin. “You’ll go through peaks and troughs throughout your pregnancy, and what bothers you at one point may well have disappeared by the next trimester.”
Writer Lola Augustine Brown felt beautiful when she was pregnant, but her killer pregnancy farts diminished the glamorous feeling.