Pregnancy acne: It’s not all glowing

pregnancy photography

Is the pregnancy glow real?

Ah, the pregnancy glow. Holy grail of all three trimesters. Well-intentioned people feel obliged to say you have it, even when you clearly don’t. Or maybe it’s just a perma-sheen of sweat from fighting back waves of nausea.

It can feel as if there’s a societal pressure when pregnant to be emanating a fertility goddess-like glow, perhaps so that people can compliment you without stepping onto the dodgy turf of commenting on your size. However, there are many pregnancy symptoms that can leave us feeling less than glowing, and if you are one of those women who suffer flare-ups of acne in pregnancy (myself included) it can really knock your confidence.

The science bit

Depending on which source you look at, more than 2 out of 5 women will suffer from acne during pregnancy, and it’s especially common in the first trimester. You’re more likely to suffer from acne in pregnancy if you already have a history of it. Although some healthcare professionals may dismiss acne as a cosmetic complaint, it can have a massive impact on a woman’s quality of life and can even put the sufferer at greater risk of depression.

Hormonal changes in pregnancy lead to increased activity in the oil-producing glands in your skin. There are more of these glands present in the skin on the face than other parts of the body.

But what is the point of having more oil in your skin? Well, increased sebaceous (oil gland) activity encourages the development of Montgomery tubercles in the breast. These are pimple-like bumps on the areola that provide lubrication to the nipple during breastfeeding. This increased oil production, and the higher volume of circulating blood during pregnancy, probably contribute to the famous pregnancy glow.

What can I do about my pregnancy acne?

There are many prescription treatments available for sufferers of acne, both oral (tablet form) and topical (applied to the skin). However, not all of these are safe to use in pregnancy. If you are already using prescription medication and trying to conceive or think you might be pregnant, it’s really important that you consult your GP or dermatologist straight away. Topical retinoids and certain types of antibiotics aren’t suitable for use in pregnancy because of a risk of harm to the developing baby. Fortunately, there are still some medicines that can be taken during pregnancy. If your acne is bothering you and shop-bought skincare remedies aren’t working, make an appointment to see your doctor and talk to them about how it’s making you feel. Your GP should discuss the treatment options available to you while pregnant and weigh up the possible risks and benefits. Be prepared that if you’re in your first trimester it may be a waiting game, as many women find that their skin settles down later on in pregnancy with no treatment necessary.

skincare for acne in pregnancy

In any case, many women prefer not to take any drugs in pregnancy unless they really need to, so here are some options to consider trying first.  I highly recommend La Roche Posay’s Effaclar range for acne-prone skin (during pregnancy and beyond!). The problem with many high street skincare products for spots is that they work by drying out the affected area. This often has the opposite desired effect of making the blemish more obvious because it also dries the skin around the spot. The Effaclar range uses anti-inflammatory and hydrating ingredients and is gentle on sensitive skin. The Effaclar Duo+ Unifiant moisturiser comes in two shades (as well as a non-tinted version) so you can use it instead of foundation. It can be applied easily with fingertips or a make-up brush/sponge and is buildable, so you can achieve fuller coverage, or just go for a dewy, fresh look. It’s so quick to use that it’s now become my go-to base since having a baby, as I find primer, foundation and blending way too much effort!

A French study found that acne in pregnancy was more likely to affect the back than acne in non-pregnant women. I discovered the Serozinc Toner Mist spray in the lead-up to my wedding as I was wearing a backless dress and was terrified of a breakout with that area being on full display. I started using it again on my back and chest when pregnant, and found that it helped to heal old blemishes and keep new ones at bay.

And a final word, be careful which stretch mark lotions you use or which part of the body you use them on. Some contain shea butter which, whilst being a lovely rich moisturiser, is comodogenic meaning that it blocks pores. Blocked pores can also lead to spots so if you’re using a shea butter-based stretch mark remedy, avoid putting it on your upper torso if you’re prone to spots on your back and chest and wash your hands after applying to avoid transferring any to your face by mistake.

pregnancy skincare

As for the pregnancy glow, don’t worry if it never comes. You will glow with hormonal pride when your baby arrives.

What drugs can I take while breastfeeding?

How to check what medicines are safe to use while breastfeeding

How many of us suffered through colds and hayfever while pregnant with only feeble hot lemon and honey drinks for relief? Oh, how I longed for decongestants and antihistamines! If you were to read Patient Information Leaflets (“PILs”, aka the little bits of white paper inside medicine boxes), you’d be forgiven for thinking the situation with taking medicines while breastfeeding isn’t much better.  However, the wonderful people over at the Breastfeeding Network have compiled a number of fact sheets summarising the available safety information on a whole range of different types of prescription and over-the-counter drugs so that breastfeeding mums can make informed choices about what they take. They also run a Facebook page and email information service in case a drug you wish to take isn’t covered in their factsheets, or if you just need a bit more advice.

The science bit

So why do drug manufacturers recommend against the use of so many medicines while breastfeeding? The answer is simply lack of conclusive evidence. Virtually all clinical trials exclude pregnant or breastfeeding women because of the ethical and legal implications if something were to go wrong. If you asked a pharmacist or GP if a medicine was ok to take while breastfeeding, they’d probably recommend against many of them because the textbook they refer to (the British National Formulary or BNF) usually provides little guidance. However, there is often additional information available from pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic studies, which can tell us how much of a drug passes through to the mother’s milk, for example. Small trials and case reports of breastfeeding women who’ve taken medicines sometimes also add to the body of evidence.

So how do I know which drugs are safe?

Your GP should always be your first port of call for any prescription medicines. However, if they are recommending against you taking something that you feel you really need, it’s worth checking the Breastfeeding Network’s information sheets. Print one off and take it to the GP with you if necessary. They cover everything from antidepressants to migraine medication.

For over-the-counter medicines, it is definitely worth checking the factsheets before completely discounting taking something. For example, I am currently suffering with hayfever (and also breastfeeding), but all the available over-the-counter medicines are not recommended by the manufacturer. However, when I checked the relevant information sheet from the Breastfeeding Network I can see that certain types of hayfever tablets reach low levels in milk and therefore should be ok for me to take.  This is, of course, my decision based on what I have read, and what I feel are the relative risks of taking the medicine versus the benefits of me getting some relief!

Needing to take medication should never be a barrier to you continuing your breastfeeding journey. So arm yourself with knowledge and make the decision that’s right for you. Good luck mamas!

Keeping your baby or toddler safe in the sun

Staying safe in the sun

How to protect your little one from the damaging effects of the sun

Yes! Summer is officially here in the UK. Ditch those winter jumpers and stockpile Mars Bar ice creams before the freezer section of Asda is decimated. If, like me, you found yourself using your head as a human sun shield while pushing your little one around today, you will intuitively already be protecting your baby from direct sunlight. But the problem with the mum head eclipse technique is that the sun moves, and so do you! So what more can you do to keep your baby safe?

The science bit

It’s common sense that babies and children have more delicate, sensitive skin that can burn more easily. There is also evidence showing that exposure of newborn skin to UV radiation from the sun can cause changes in skin cells that persist into adulthood, and which could play a role in the development of skin cancer.

Protecting your baby from the sun


Top sun safety tips for babies and children

  1. Seek out shade

    Yes, it’s obvious. But if you’re used to staring out your office window thinking, “Why is the best weather reserved for work days”, you’ll have an urge to soak up those rays. So ignore the urge and find play spots under trees, walk on the shady side of the road, sit under a parasol. The NHS recommends keeping babies under 6 months completely out of direct sunlight, but especially around midday (I would go further and say avoid exposure between 11am and 3pm).

  2. Dress for summer

    This is the fun bit, right? Cute summer rompers worthy of Prince George. Of course we want to keep our little ones cool and protect their heads, but don’t forget to cover the other parts of the body that will see the most sun. For toddlers on the move, that means shoulders and the back of the neck. T shirts with short sleeves are far better than strappy tops, and hats with a neck flap or a soft brim that you can pull down at the back are better than baseball caps. Check out British brand Toby Tiger for some gorgeous bucket-style sunhats, and organic kids clothing company Frugi for hats with neck flaps that can be worn in the water.

  3. Get a Snoozeshade

    This is a great invention, and best of all it was designed by a fellow sun-dodging mum. It fits over any pushchair in either the bassinet or upright formation, and blocks out 80% of UV while still allowing your little one to see out. The breathable cover is super easy to fit and, because it folds down into a tiny little drawstring bag, I keep mine with my buggy at all times alongside my rain cover (it’s England, land of snow in March and 25°C in April). It also creates a nice dim environment for naps on the go and keeps all nature of flying pests away from your little munchkin. A UV cover or parasol specifically designed for the job is far better than a loose muslin over your pushchair, as they allow for ventilation and block the harmful UV rays.

  4. Slap on the suncream

    Most sunscreen isn’t suitable for babies under 6 months, hence the advice to keep them completely out of direct sunlight. There are, however, a couple of brands that have been specifically formulated for babies under 6 months. Mustela and La Roche Posay both offer sunscreens that are suitable for newborns and are also good options for children with eczema or very sensitive skin.
    For older children there are a whole host of options available. A sunscreen specifically designed for children is best, as the chemicals in adult creams are too strong for their sensitive skin (adult sunscreens absorb and dissipate UV radiation, whereas children’s suncreens use minerals to reflect it). Apply thickly 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours as a minimum.

    Here are the key things you’re looking for:
    – SPF of 15 or above
    – UVA and UVB protection (a UVA rating of 4 stars or higher if you’re going abroad)
    – Maximum of 1 year since opening – if it’s from last year, bin it. My top mum hack is to use a permanent marker to write the date you opened it directly onto the bottle
    – Waterproof if you’re heading to the beach or pool

  5. Hydration, hydration, hydration

    If you’re breastfeeding, be prepared that your little one may want to feed more often than usual to hydrate themselves. It’s therefore really important that you also stay hydrated. I love this bottle from the Breastfeeding Network . If you’re formula feeding, you can give your baby cooled boiled water throughout the day on top of their normal bottle feeds. If your little one is over 6 months old and they get bored with water, try a few covert techniques to get water into them. Ice cubes or homemade fruit lollies can be popular, or fruit and veg that’s high in water content such as melon and cucumber. I’ve found that Mr J loves sucking water out of a flannel – usually bathwater but that’s not advisable!