Pregnancy – a 42-week long event in which a woman experiences changes in her body she didn’t dream could occur. Changes that are not just visible to the outside world, where the physiological workings of her body can cause a myriad of physical and emotional complaints to arise. These can consist of nausea and vomiting, headaches, heightened sense of smell and hearing, changes in mood, changes in appetite and taste, increased hair growth, and changes in skin colour to name only a few. While much is written on the stereotypically common issues of nausea and vomiting, breast, mood and appetite changes, there is little discussed for many of the other complaints and conditions that are not always directly associated with pregnancy, such as headaches, changes in hair growth and skin, including pigmentation irritation and other problems. Here we will briefly discuss both the physiology and the possible treatment options for these common issues.
In the first trimester of pregnancy, most of the complaints and changes of pregnancy are due, not directly to the growing fetus, but to the drastic changes in the production of female hormones estrogen and progesterone. During these first three months, estrogen and progesterone increase in order to prepare not only the uterus, but also the whole body for the growing fetus. The body begins to increase blood flow to the skin in order to dissipate the heat from an elevated metabolic system. Progesterone is predominantly responsible for this change, as it causes vasodilation of the blood vessels. This vasodilation, while increasing blood flow to the skin, can also result in headaches, skin irritation, and itching due to increased perspiration, and increased absorption of topical agents through the skin. The increased estrogen triggers hair growth and changes in the blood vessels, which in combination with the vasodilation associated with increased progesterone, can lead to the formation of spider veins and other vascular changes, typically on the arms and legs, chest and face. The combination of elevated estrogen and progesterone also triggers the hormone that stimulates the production of the chemical that causes pigmentation, melanin. This causes the darkening of nipples, as well as moles, armpits and vulva. It can also cause a condition known as chloasma, or the mask of pregnancy, which is an increase in pigmentation, similar to a tan, of the cheeks, upper lip, lips, forehead, and nose.
While all of these concerns are considered a normal part of pregnancy, and typically disappear spontaneously after childbirth, they can be early signs of other complications or nutritional deficiencies, and should therefore be addressed by your medical professional. A thorough work up for pregnancy-related conditions such as iron deficiency anemia, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes is routinely completed by both midwives and obstetricians. With early detection and close monitoring, these conditions can typically be treated successfully.
A number of safe, gentle, and effective treatments are available to address the symptoms and changes described above. Ensuring adequate hydration and nutrition through diet optimization and high quality supplementation throughout pregnancy can greatly reduce both the symptoms and risks of pregnancy. The application of cold, pregnancy-safe, herb-infused compresses can greatly reduce both skin irritation and headaches. Acupuncture, herbal prescriptions, and other treatment options are available, safe, and effective when used appropriately under medical supervision.