The first few months after having a baby is equal parts exhilarating and overwhelming. For me, after the births of both my children, I would often trace their little fingers, inhale their sweet smell, and also cry … a lot. From feeling overwhelmed by the new routines to staring back at a reflection I didn’t recognize, that postpartum haze often felt so heavy.
When caring for a little person that needs you so much, taking care of your own self can be really daunting and likely, one of the last priorities on the list. Since having my daughter two years ago and my son nearly six years ago, I have often felt that I’m able to be their best mother when I, too, am cared for. Taking care of myself and feeling good radiates through me and onto my family. After each birth, I found myself on a quest to slowly feel like myself again. Over the years, my friends and I would find ourselves googling so many of those imminent questions postpartum. Here, we dive into some of the biggest concerns postpartum with help from the experts.
Why am I losing so much hair postpartum?
If you went from feeling like Rapunzel to having a skimpy ponytail (maybe with some spit up in it), you are not alone. Kiran Mian, M.D., an NYC board-certified dermatologist, explains, “Hair gets fuller during pregnancy because of the uptick of estrogen and progesterone. When those hormones drop after delivery, you experience shedding,” she says. CT-based board-certified dermatologist, Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., says, “Hair loss typically peaks about 3-6 months after giving birth and lasts 3-6 months. Most new moms’ hair gets back to normal by their baby’s first birthday.”
The solution? If you can see a doctor, Mian recommends cortisone injections, “it can help minimize shedding in the first couple of months especially. If you experience loss for more than 6 months, “see a dermatologist and consider topical minoxidil,” says Mian.
Meet the Experts
Kiran Mian , M.D., is an NYC board-certified dermatologist.
Deanne Mraz Robinson , M.D., is a CT-based board-certified dermatologist, CMO of Ideal Image, and mother of four.
If getting out of the house for non-essentials isn’t on your radar currently, there are some simple steps you can take even at home. Robinson notes, “be gentle on your strands while you’re going through hair loss, this will minimize breakage of your existing strands and nurture the new growth coming in, which is more fragile.” She recommends swapping a cotton pillowcase for silk, taking it easy on heat styling and swapping tight ponies for low, loose buns with silk scrunchies. Mian also recommends keeping up with your prenatal vitamins, “they are typically great for hair or Nutrafol and Viviscal can help and make a difference too,” she says.
Why am I breaking out like a teenager?
Hormonal imbalances coupled with stress and lack of sleep are a recipe for acne. “Estrogen and progesterone are leveling out postpartum, a process that can take a few months to work itself out,” says Robinson. Note: If you’re breastfeeding, you may notice that breakouts appear after weaning (which was the case for myself when a blanket of zits appeared on my chin shortly after weaning my daughter). “Falling estrogen levels are correlated to breakouts, and progesterone has a link to sebum production,” says Robinson. She recommends looking for products that contain less than 2% salicylic acid (like Sunday Riley U.F.O. Salicylic Acid BHA Acne Treatment Face Oil) which is typically safe while pregnant and nursing. “I also like azelaic acid, bachukiol, and treatment masks with sulfurs and clays to decongest the pores and calm inflammation. On the no no list? Both derms recommended avoiding retinols and benzoyl peroxide while nursing so only use if you are not breastfeeding.
I’m also so dehydrated. What’s up with that?
There are a few things at play here! “As hormones shift, so does sebum production — some women will find their skin drier and others more oily during this time, so you may need to switch up your facial and body moisturizers to accommodate these fluctuations,” says Robinson. Additionally, fresh stretch marks can also itch. “As the skin stretches it becomes thinner and the nerves are less supported and more sensitive,” explains Robinson. Slather on a body lotion and facial moisturizer with skin barrier-protecting ceramides, like Sunday Riley ICE Ceramide Moisturizer.
I have a dark spot on my face since pregnancy that’s not going. Help!
“Melasma can present when there is an overproduction of melanin, which is something known to happen during pregnancy thanks to the surge of estrogen in the body,” says Robinson. (This overproduction of melanin is also what causes that line down your belly button in pregnancy, also known as linea negra). Robinson notes “treating melasma can be tricky — the most important thing is to commit to is mineral SPF 30+ daily plus a wide-brimmed hat during pregnancy and afterwards while you’re treating it.” Try Sunday Riley Light Hearted Broad Spectrum SPF 30, the lightweight formula blends in easily.
Also look for topical products that contain retinol, azelaic acid, and kojic acid to help brighten skin. She also recommends in-office lasers treatments like PicoSure Pro or Clear and Brilliant Touch but it’s best to speak with your derm to figure out which treatment is right for you.
My nipples are chapped from nursing, what do I do?
I remember the first few weeks after my first child was born, I wondered if it was normal just how much he breastfed. I, soon, discovered that all newborns need to be fed every couple of hours, which can take a major toll on nipples. “Vaseline helps a ton, your basic petrolatum will help retain moisture and heal the skin,” says Mian. She recommends using it multiple times a day. “You can also use coconut oil if you’re not allergic to it, some people can be sensitive to it,” she notes.
What can I do about stretch marks?
We know, it’s hard to see changes in your body but can we recommend a little self love for those tiger stripes? Our bodies are not meant to be unblemished and look as if we never carried any baggage, literally. “Stretch marks, or striae, occur when our skin stretches abruptly and the collagen and elastin fibers that support the skin rupture. The tears cause tiny blood vessels in the skin to break, which is what gives the marks their signature reddish-purplish hue,” says Robinson.
Unfortunately, overall there is a lack of clinical research backing the claims on most stretch mark topicals. Despite whatever “miracle products” you see sprouting up in your feed, be wary that while you may see fading, you may not able to get rid of them completely. “What we do know is women seem more prone to developing stretch marks than men, and that most of their likelihood to do so has to do with genetics,” explains Robinson. “There are products and key active ingredients that can help them heal (fade from red/purple to white) and disguise them. Look for hyaluronic acid, as well as peptides and ceramides, which support collagen synthesis to fill in depressed scarring (stretch marks) and rejuvenate the skin,” she explains.
Speaking of stomach skin, mine is so loose.
Even if you’ve lost some of the baby weight, you may notice skin not hanging the way it used to. “When the skin expands rapidly it doesn’t always “bounce back” like an elastic band, at least not right away. Furthermore if you have abdominal wall separation (diastasis recti) then your skin is still stretched further than it was pre-pregnancy,” explains Robinson. She recommends putting your money towards laser treatments over pricey creams for more impactful results. For everyday maintenance, Mian also recommends retinol-infused body lotions (if you are not nursing). “Retinol helps stimulate collagen production to make the skin appear more firm,” she says.
Just know that whether it’s hair loss, stretch marks, melasma or all 3; a lot of these beauty “issues” do typically fade in time (sometimes both metaphorically and physically). It’s hard to see that when you’re in the moment but you’re beyond beautiful in all of your different stages, even the hard ones.
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