Skincare For Breastfeeding Moms

A breastfeeding mom’s skin goes through a rollercoaster of events that can take it’s toll any of us. I will have a look at the most common skin conditions during breastfeeding and a guide to skincare for breastfeeding moms.

Factors such as pregnancy hormones, sleep deprivation, and a non exsistant skincare routine can cause havoc with our skin.

Although breastfeeding is essentially an instinct that involves a reflex, everything we need to know about lactation and nursing is not automatically known to a new breastfeeding mother. There is still a list of dos, don’ts, and misconceptions that a mother should consider while nursing her child.

Dos while breastfeedingDon’ts while breastfeeding
Stay hydratedBe self-conscious!
Eat a balanced dietMix-feed your child too early
Take vitamin and mineral supplementsIgnore bleeding or chronic pain
Get regular exerciseTake certain medications
Involve your partner in the processBe ashamed to ask for advice

Hormonal Changes after giving birth that can Affect Skin

After delivery, your body does not magically return to its pre-pregnancy state. The hormones responsible for maintaining your pregnancy, namely progesterone, and estrogen, are always being released and circulated throughout your body. However, they quickly drop to lower, baseline levels to transition to the postpartum, non-pregnant state. This enables your body to focus on lactation and nurturing your baby.

During the early months of pregnancy when estrogen rises and eventually reaches peak levels, the so-called “pregnancy glow” is a noticeable effect by many onlookers. Post-partum, the sudden and drastic drop in estrogen can cause several unwanted events in many women. Some of these events include mood swings, headaches, and even acne! Yes, even if you are well into your 20s and beyond. Also, low levels of estrogen and progesterone are considered a contributing factor to postpartum depression or the “baby blues”.

Skin Changes to expect while breastfeeding

Even before giving birth, your body has already been changing gradually to prepare for delivery and lactation. For the first few weeks to months of breastfeeding, you can expect several challenges and adjustment periods. During this time your body’s hormone levels switch from pregnancy to post-partum levels.

Engorgement

While lactating and nursing, you will notice your breasts being full. At times, this may be uncomfortable or slightly painful but will become more bearable as the days go on. This is mainly due to the increased production of milk and swelling of the milk ducts. You can suffer from engorgement if you have not completely drained the milk ducts within your breast. This is mostly due to short or infrequent feeds and milk builds up inside the breasts. Your breasts will likely be sore and uncomfortably full. This can be remedied by removing the excess milk and through gentle massages.

Possible Skin Infection

Signs and symptoms of an infection or skin condition include if the pain is severe, chronic, or accompanied by dry, cracked, or reddened skin around the nipple area. You should seek consultation from your doctor for treatment.

The rapid increase of milk and breast tissue production after giving birth and during breastfeeding can also contribute to striations or stretch marks. These are entirely harmless and normal; however, many women find stretchmarks to be unattractive and seek out remedies to get rid of them. 

Dealing with skin problems while breastfeeding

Many people— regardless of gender, age, or ethnicity – experience at least one skin condition at some point in their life. During pregnancy, a surge of hormones can throw everything off balance. You can expect weight gain and mood swings.

However, less commonly talked about are the effects of pregnancy on your skin. Acne, stretch marks, melasma, and the most dreaded of the bunch—wrinkles, can all occur during pregnancy. But, unfortunately, these do not magically disappear once your baby is born. Once you begin breastfeeding we deserve to know a little about skincare and what is safe for breastfeeding moms.

Thankfully, treatment is possible and readily available—with certain restrictions and considerations. If you are experiencing some skin problems and intend to breastfeed, it would be wise to do your research. Make sure to consult with your physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Problem #1: Acne

For teenagers, acne is one of the most prevalent skin conditions, affecting up to 85% of teenagers and young adults. It can be quite scarring both emotionally and physically. Most of the time, less severe forms of acne go away after puberty once hormone levels have begun to balance out.

During pregnancy, your hormone levels fluctuate, and this may trigger the return of acne. This is especially true if you already had acne before pregnancy or had acne as a teenager. People tend to not associate acne as a legitimate health concern, chalking it up to a purely cosmetic and temporary affliction. However, this is far from true. The emotional and mental toll of having acne on top of the burden of raising a child can be detrimental. In could drive some women to depression with suicidal ideations.

Different Approach while Nursing

If you had moderate to severe acne as a teenager, you are likely recalling the mountain of products you desperately tried to get rid of those pesky pimples. While this may have been okay to do while you were younger, pregnancy and breastfeeding limits the type and number of approaches to address acne and other skin concerns. Here we look at safe skincare products for breastfeeding moms in relation to acne.

Acne treatment while breastfeeding

Topical preparations are generally safe to use, primarily if your acne is confined to your face and neck. However, there are more severe forms of acne that affect your chest area or require oral medications such as antibiotics or retinoids. it is important to seek professional advice even if you had previously used certain medications before pregnancy to treat your acne.

First line treatments

One of the first-line treatments for acne is benzoyl peroxide. It is easily accessible, available in both prescription and non-prescription formulas, and relatively inexpensive. The best part is that you can use benzoyl peroxide while breastfeeding. This product is purely topical and does not penetrate deep into the skin.

Differin Gel

Another topical product available for acne treatment is Differin® gel (adapalene 0.1%). Adapalene is a type of retinoid or vitamin A-derivative, that is especially effective against comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads). Retinoids work at the cellular level to modify gene transcription and the quantity of skin cells. The result is less dead skin cells that can clog pores and cause blackheads and whiteheads. Using Differin gel while nursing has not been studied, however, when applied topically it is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. It is not likely to enter breast milk so it is considered safe to use on areas of skin away from the nipple area.

However unconventional, breast milk for acne treatment is another viable option. It is costless, convenient, and completely natural. Before you turn your nose up at the idea, take a look at the components and benefits of applying breast milk on your face:

Benefits of Breast Milk for Skin

Skin boosting componentsBenefits
Vitamin AVitamin A supplementation is encouraged for lactating women and the topical vitamin A works as an antioxidant and promotes skin health.
Lauric acidLauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid that is found in breast milk (as well as virgin coconut oil) that has been shown to inhibit bacterial growth better than benzoyl peroxide.
LactoferrinLactoferrin is typically useful for intestinal health, however, it also functions as an antioxidant and protects against bacterial infections.
Amino acidsAmino acids are the building blocks of proteins and essential for skin cell regeneration and collagen synthesis to repair scars, fine lines, and discoloration.
Immunological factorsActive cytokines and antibodies prevent inflammation, infection, and promote skin vitality.

Breast milk can be used directly after being expressed or stored in the fridge. Lower temperatures help to reduce swelling and inflammation. At the same time, warm or room-temperature breast milk is easier to spread on the skin and allow for the optimal absorption of proteins, lipids, and vitamins.

Problem #2: Stretch marks

Traditionally, stretch marks are considered the bane of pregnancy despite these “stripes” showing up in up to 90% of women. In modern times, breastfeeding and body positivity movements have turned dreaded stretch marks into powerful “tiger stripes” that have empowered many women to embrace motherhood and be more comfortable in their own skin.

Stretch Mark Treatment while Breastfeeding

While stretch marks are not a health concern, we all want to lessen their appearance and achieve smoother skin. Here are some treatments available for skincare for breastfeeding moms in relation to stretch marks. A wide range of options exists to treat stretch marks and include both medical and physical approaches, such as exfoliators, lotions, massages, and laser treatments.

Problem #3: Fine lines and wrinkles

Pregnancy, motherhood, and work can be extremely taxing on your body and mental health and over time, these stressors find their way to your face. Daily exposure to stress and the elements causes a build-up of free radicals that speed up the aging process and make you more prone to illness. Proper sleep and a balanced diet with regular exercise can work wonders but can be hard to do when you are always on the go.

Treatments for Ageing Skin while Breastfeeding

The next best thing would be to invest in effective anti-aging products. It is safe and possible to use an anti-aging cream while breastfeeding. Retinoids are touted as some of the most effective anti-aging ingredients, however, they should be used with caution and with approval from your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Other effective treatments that can be used while breastfeeding includes acid peels and cosmetic procedures such as dermabrasion and laser light therapy. This article discusses the issue of botox while also breastfeeding.

Problem #4: Melasma and skin discoloration

One of the seemingly unexpected effects of hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy is melasma and other skin discolorations. Melasma manifests as dark patches of skin, usually on the face in the case of pregnancy, and is similar to large freckles or age spots. Like wrinkles and stretch marks, melasma and hyperpigmentation are not hazardous to your health nor contagious, however, most women would prefer to get rid of these blemishes.

Because one of the primary triggers of melasma is hormone fluctuations, melasma can fade away on its own after a woman delivers her baby or stops taking birth control pills. For others, melasma may take months to years to fade while some may live with melasma for the rest of their life.

Treatment Options for Melasma while Breastfeeding

Here are some of the treatments for skincare for breastfeeding moms in relation to melasma. Treatment options include using skin lightening products that contain hydroquinone. Be sure to get professional advice if you are considering using this product. There are mixed reviews from health professionals due to controversy regarding the carcinogenicity of hydroquinone. Retinoids such as tretinoin may be used, as directed by your physician. Cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels and laser treatments are frequently recommended to treat melasma and a wide range of skin conditions when topical medications are not enough.

General skincare during breastfeeding

If you find yourself totally blemish-free during or after pregnancy, consider yourself an exceptionally blessed individual! Your genetics and overall health status before pregnancy likely played a pivotal role in preserving your skin’s vitality. However, the increased stress of motherhood can easily speed up the aging process. If you get too complacent, you may find yourself playing catch up to save (your) face!

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this tenet is especially true for skincare. Our skin has exceptional regenerative capabilities, which are enhanced with the right diet, supplementation, and products.

Here is some general advice on skincare for breastfeeding moms. Facial cleansers and lotions that contain natural ingredients are generally safe to use at any time. Adding products like exfoliators helps remove dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin, promoting new, healthy cell regeneration and preventing clogged pores and dull-looking skin. Look for exfoliators and peels that contain natural ingredients, glycolic acid, or alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). Nursing moms can use Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), but due to its affinity to lipids and similarity to salicylic acid, it should be used less frequently than AHAs in pregnant and lactating women.

Is retinol safe while breastfeeding?

Reading through this article, you may have noticed that the words retinol and retinoids being mentioned as remedies for each of the various skin problems nursing moms may face. You may also be aware that retinoids are contraindicated for pregnant women as it can cause serious congenital disabilities and ask yourself, “can you use retinol while breastfeeding?”

The reason why retinol is bad for pregnancy is that, in excess, vitamin A and its derivatives can disrupt the formation of the neural tube of a fetus, which later forms into the brain and nervous system of the baby. Retinoids work at the cellular and DNA level and synthetic forms can be extremely potent when taken orally.

The need for increased intake or supplementation of vitamin A is essential for lactating mothers to produce nutritious breast milk. If you are asking, “can you use vitamin A when breastfeeding?”, the answer is a definite yes. For breastfeeding mothers, the recommended dietary intake of vitamin A (in the form of retinol) is 1300 mcg per day with daily doses up to 1500 mcg considered safe for both mother and breastfeeding infants.

Retinol while nursing

While vitamin A supplementation is important, the safety of using retinol products while breastfeeding is not established. The majority of topical products are poorly or only moderately absorbed by the skin and into the body’s circulation, however, due to the lack of studies done on breastfeeding women the effects of retinol while breastfeeding are not known.

Generally, medical professionals err on the side of caution. They do not recommend retinoid products for lactating women due to the dangers they carry during pregnancy and the fact that there are safer options readily available. However, strictly speaking, the risk of retinol while breastfeeding is minimal due to low absorption.

However, this can sometimes leave us in a dilemma in relation to skincare for breastfeeding moms. If other products contain safer ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, AHA/BHA, and the like are not producing significant improvements, retinoids or cosmetic surgery may be prescribed by your doctor.

Essential tips to remember if you use retinoids while breastfeeding

Only use the recommended amount

If you do decide to use retinol products while breastfeeding take care to use it sparingly and carefully as we know it can be a part of skincare for breastfeeding moms. This is typically a pea-sized to dime-sized amount spread thinly on the affected areas.

Only apply the product to the affected areas

This will reduce the surface area and amount of product that will be absorbed and prevent irritation of the surrounding skin.

Do not apply products to the nipple area

Unless indicated by your doctor, do not apply topical products to the nipple area and surrounding breast, especially before breastfeeding. Your baby may ingest the product applied to the skin and could show signs of toxicity, due to either the active ingredients or preservatives used to formulate the product. Also, the nipple area is sensitive and may become irritated if the product is applied directly to it.

Wash your hands immediately after applying the product

Washing your hands after touching any medication is a good habit to avoid applying it to unwanted areas such as the eyes, mouth, and other sensitive areas of both you and your child.

Cleanse the skin before breastfeeding.

If your doctor has indicated the use of retinoids or other products for areas around the breast and nipple area, be sure to cleanse the area before breastfeeding. It is best to use a gentle, unscented soap to prevent irritation and adding offensive tastes or odors that may affect your baby’s ability to breastfeed.

I hope this has been of help and has provided some helpful information on skincare for breastfeeding moms.

Reference List

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American Academy of Dermatology. (2020). Melasma: Diagnosis and treatment. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/melasma-treatment.

American Pregnancy Association. (2020, June 2). Skin Changes During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/skin-changes-during-pregnancy/.

Ballard, O., & Morrow, A. L. (2013). Human milk composition: nutrients and bioactive factors. Pediatric clinics of North America, 60(1), 49–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2012.10.002

Bethesda (MD). (2018, December 3). Tretinoin. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501419/.

Bethesda (MD). (2018, December 3). Vitamin A. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513060/.

Bethesda (MD). (2018, October 31). Adapalene. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK501423/.

Huizen, J. (2017, October 24). Stretch marks on breasts: Types, treatment options, and risk factors. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319800.

Nakatsuji, T., Kao, M. C., Fang, J. Y., Zouboulis, C. C., Zhang, L., Gallo, R. L., & Huang, C. M. (2009). Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris. The Journal of investigative dermatology, 129(10), 2480–2488. https://doi.org/10.1038/jid.2009.93

Piskin, S., & Uzunali, E. (2007). A review of the use of adapalene for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Therapeutics and clinical risk management, 3(4), 621–624.

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