Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/01/2020
From the moment you notice your missed period, things are going to be different. Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it can also be scary and, at times, confusing.
Not only will you find yourself making preparations to bring new life into the world, but you’ll be dealing with some unexpected changes in your body as well.
Over the coming weeks, your belly will start to grow, and other body parts may swell along with it. Your hormones will be in a tizzy, and you’ll find that certain foods and smells either send you into ravenous hunger or running for the bathroom.
The hormonal fluctuations that come with pregnancy affect more than just your taste buds — they also affect your hair, skin and nails. Keep reading to learn what changes you can expect during pregnancy.
Your hair grows in a predictable cycle, but pregnancy hormones can interrupt that cycle and cause some unexpected changes.
Healthy hair grows at a rate of about a half inch per month, growing for a period of three to five years before going into a resting phase for two to three months. After the resting phase, the hair falls out and the entire cycle repeats.
During pregnancy, your hair may remain in the growth cycle longer than usual, due to an increase in estrogen hormone, making your hair appear thicker.
Unfortunately, some women experience the opposite during pregnancy — increased estrogen levels cause hair to move prematurely from the growing into the resting phase. During this time, you may experience reduced growth and increased hair shedding.
After delivery, estrogen levels return to normal and hairs in the resting phase may fall out. This results in a condition called telogen effluvium, and it usually happens between one and five months following delivery.
Most women find that this increase in hair loss is temporary and hair resumes its normal growth pattern by the time the baby reaches 12 months old.
To keep your hair healthy during pregnancy, here are some simple things you can do:
Don’t wear your hair in tight styles such as cornrows, weaves and braids to avoid putting excess strain on the hair, increasing hair loss.
Use shampoos and conditioners that contain hair-supporting nutrients like biotin, silica and vitamin E.
Eat a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables because they contain flavonoids and antioxidants that protect the hair follicles.
Be careful with your hair when it is wet because it can be fragile. Use a wide-toothed comb when brushing wet hair and use the cool setting on your hairdryer.
In addition to following the tips above, you may also want to avoid dyeing your hair while pregnant. There is no conclusive evidence to show that hair dye is dangerous for babies and your hair is unlikely to absorb enough chemicals to affect you or your baby. Even so, you may want to avoid chemical hair products for at least the first trimester.
Pregnant women are often said to have a glow about them, but where does it come from?
When you become pregnant, your blood volume increases to provide extra blood flow to the uterus and to the developing fetus. Increased blood flow brings more blood to the vessels in your skin and increases secretions in the oil glands. These things, combined with slight fluid retention, stretching skin and hot flashes, create that pregnancy glow.
While many women experience improvements in their skin during pregnancy, some women are not so lucky. Some women find that their skin becomes drier and more prone to breakouts.
Many women even find that their skin darkens overall, possibly due to an increase in estrogen and melanocyte-stimulating hormone levels.
Some other skin changes you may experience during pregnancy include the following:
Stretch Marks — These appear as pink or purple lines that develop on the belly, breasts, hips and legs. The exact cause for stretch marks is unknown but has something to do with pregnancy hormones and skin stretching. Some studies
have shown that skin creams containing vitamin E, menthol and collagen-elastin hydrolysates may help reduce the development of stretch marks.
Chloasma — Between 50 percent and 70 percent
of pregnant women experience increased pigmentation on the cheeks, nose and chin in the form of brown or yellow patches. To reduce the risk of chloasma, avoid photosensitizing skincare products and use sunscreen at least SPF 50.
— While some women develop chloasma on the face, others experience hyperpigmentation on the nipples, external genitalia and anal region caused by an increase in melanocytes related to pregnancy hormones.
— During pregnancy, the sebaceous glands in the skin produce more oil, increasing the risk for acne. Try using topical skin care products made with glycolic acid or alpha hydroxy acid.
Heat Rash — Changing hormones and an increase in body weight can lead to an increase in body temperature. Many women experience hot flashes or heat rashes during pregnancy as a result.
Because your skin will be changing throughout the course of your pregnancy, you may need to make changes to your skincare routine.
Start each day with a gentle cleanser to remove excess oils. Next, apply a daily moisturizer that includes a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15. If you’re experiencing breakouts, try using topical products that contain glycolic acid, alpha hydroxy acid or witch hazel to calm things down.
Important Note: Retinoids are a common ingredient in anti-aging skin care products because they boost collagen production and speed cell turnover.
Dermatologists do not recommend retinoids for pregnant women, however, because they have the potential to harm an unborn child. This is confirmed by a 2018 report filed by the European Medicines Agency.
If you struggle with brittle nails, you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Pregnancy hormones cause many women to develop stronger, faster-growing nails. Unfortunately, some women experience the opposite — brittle nails prone to splitting and breaking.
The sudden influx of pregnancy hormones often causes increased nail growth but, for some women, that growth is accompanied by groove formation, brittleness and onycholysis (separation of the nail from the nail bed). Fortunately, these changes are usually temporary, and your nails should go back to normal after you’ve given birth. But what can you do in the meantime?
Here are some simple tips for healthy nails during pregnancy:
Eat a balanced diet to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to grow strong nails.
Keep taking your pregnancy vitamins, being sure to include nail-supporting nutrients like biotin
Include natural sources of biotin in your diet such as eggs, nuts, mushrooms, peas, avocado, milk, bananas and whole grains.
Avoid using solvent-based nail products (such as nail polish removers) because they can dry your nails out even more.
Keep your nails short, so they’re less likely to snag on something and break.
Wear rubber gloves when washing dishes or cleaning around the house to protect your skin and nails from harsh chemicals.
Push back your cuticles when painting or buffing your nails instead of cutting them.
Pregnancy can be a stressful time when you feel like you’re not in control of your own body. Taking a day to pamper yourself at the spa is a great way to relax and unwind. Avoid poorly ventilated nail salons and make sure the salon follows standard sanitization practices to reduce the risk for bacterial infection.
Being prepared for changes to your hair, skin and nails during pregnancy can make those changes a little easier to deal with. But keep in mind that 40 weeks is a long time, and you’re bound to experience some other changes, as well.
Here are some other surprising changes you can expect during pregnancy:
You’ll develop a nesting instinct
. As your due date draws near, you’ll find yourself cleaning the house from top to bottom, paying attention to details you never noticed before.
You may notice changes in your memory and concentration. During the first trimester, fatigue and morning sickness can really wear you out, but you may still have trouble with concentration and forgetfulness even if you are well-rested — a term affectionately known to some researchers as “Baby Brain.”
You’ll experience symptoms similar to PMS
. If you experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome normally, you’re more likely to experience symptoms like breast tenderness and mood swings during pregnancy.
You may need to buy new bras
. Increased breast size is one of the first physical signs of pregnancy, and your bra size is likely to change several times throughout your pregnancy due to higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, as well as increased lung capacity.
You’ll find that your joints are a little laxer
. As your body prepares to give birth, it produces the hormone relaxin, which loosens the ligaments in your body. This makes your joints a little less stable, so you may be more prone to injury.
You may develop varicose veins
Your veins may become enlarged by pregnancy hormones, and varicose veins can form when blood pools in those veins. Varicose veins usually go away after birth, but you can prevent them by wearing loose-fitting clothing, wearing support hose and avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time.
You’ll experience heartburn like never before. During pregnancy, the muscles that break down food become more relaxed, and food stays in your stomach longer so you can absorb all of the nutrients. This can worsen existing heartburn or cause it to develop.
Becoming pregnant brings on a whirlwind of change. Though some of those changes can be unpleasant or downright uncomfortable, it is all worth it for the privilege of bringing new life into the world.
Parenthood is a noble calling, and it comes with growing pains, but you don’t have to just sit back and watch your body change without your permission.
Taking what you’ve learned here, you can prepare yourself for the inevitable changes to your hair, skin and nails, so you can sail through pregnancy looking and feeling your best.