Postnatal Skin Care

By Dugald Seely, ND on March 08, 2007
Postnatal skin care from a naturopathic perspective.

General Skin Concerns

The first few months with a newborn are undoubtedly hectic and exhausting. Despite the demands of baby feeding, changing diapers and the desperate need for sleep, getting your body back into shape is clearly important in adjusting healthily to the newborn in your life. Skin care is vital to health as it is the largest organ of your body. Also, the skin is an excellent barometer of health as it displays health imbalances at an early stage.


Postpartum skincare issues include:
  • acne
  • hair loss
  • stretch marks
  • healing of the vaginal, perineal and abdominal tissues (for C-section)
  • breast care during lactation

From a naturopathic perspective, these concerns can be dealt with both internally and externally.


Acne

The transition from pregnancy to postpartum involves enormous changes in hormone levels leading to a number of skin problems such as acne. Keeping your face free and clear of excess oil will help alleviate acne, however internal aids are likely to be most beneficial. Drink plenty of water from a clean water supply and consume dark leafy greens. This is important in supporting your liver that is dealing with the hormonal excesses that may be causing the acne and also helps to counteract fatigue and depression.


Hair Loss

Hair loss is another issue associated with hormonal change. During pregnancy, hair loss is slowed down considerably but between three to six months postpartum, hair will begin to shed at an often remarkable rate. There is little that can be done for this, but keep in mind that although it appears that you are losing a lot of hair, in fact, you are mainly losing the excess hair accumulated during pregnancy.


Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are often the most noticeable of skin concerns following pregnancy. Topically, daily applications of vitamin E oil may help to reduce them. Cocoa butter and olive oil are also considered natural skin care aids.

Be very conscious of the products you use, especially if your newborn is breastfeeding. Check for ingredients that are synthetic and might act as an irritant. Generally. if you have a tough time reading the ingredients and they sound highly chemical in nature, it's more likely they are synthetic and perhaps best avoided.

Dietary supplementation with essential fatty acids (EFAs) is great for stretch marks and has also been shown to be excellent for a baby's brain development. EFAs are found in fish such as salmon, but it's best to use a filtered EFA supplement from the health food store to get the amount needed to benefit your baby without subjecting him (or her) to any toxins that the fish may have accumulated.


Vaginal, Perineal & Abdominal Tissue(for C-section)

During labour, some women will have an episiotomy (surgical cut in the perineum to facilitate delivery), some form of vaginal tearing during labour and delivery, or may have to undergo a C-section. Discomfort, bleeding and sometimes even mild incontinence can be expected for a few weeks postpartum after vaginal births.

Comfrey and calendula are two herbs that when used topically in a sitz bath and/or applied with a soaked clean flannel or cotton compress can greatly speed healing at this time.

C-sections require bed rest and limited carrying of one's child in order for the muscles and tissues to heal.

For both vaginal and C-section births, dietary supplementation with zinc, selenium, vitamins C, E and A is good for the skin and aids in wound healing. Topical applications of vitamin E oil will reduce scarring for C-sections.


Breast Care During Lactation

Some women experience pain when first breastfeeding. This may be caused by sensitive skin compounded with the baby's extremely powerful sucking reflexes.

When combined with an improper latch, (the baby's mouth latching onto the breast), the pain can be intense and may also lead to physical trauma of the nipple. Signs to look for include bruising, cracking and scabbing.

Early potential solutions include getting and maintaining a proper latch, the use of lanolin cream, and dabbing breast milk on the nipples and leaving them to air dry.

If the pain does not subside, it is possible that you may be suffering from a fungal/yeast infection. If that is the case, gentian violet can be applied topically. If the pain persists, it is important to seek professional advice. Lactation consultants or the La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.com) are good resources for breastfeeding mothers.


Engorgement
Hot compresses and/or warm cabbage leaves can work wonders for engorgement. Use green cabbage leaves, wrap them around the breast, and leave them on for 20 minutes. Do this twice daily. Do not forget to keep nursing the baby as usual (even if painful) as the feedings will also help diminish the engorgement.
Lecithin (1,200 mg per day) can help in preventing blocked ducts and even help in treatment.
Blocked ducts and mastitis do occur and can be quite serious. If you are feeling pain in the breast(s) and have a fever, do not delay in seeing either a naturopathic doctor or M.D.

Some suggestions to optimize internal care of your skin:

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
It is critical that you maintain adequate hydration consume at least two litres or more of water from a clean water supply daily. Drinking a tall glass of water every time before breastfeeding is a good habit.

Eat Your Greens
Consuming dark, leafy greens is important for supporting your liver that is dealing with the hormonal excesses from your pregnancy. It not only helps your skin, but helps alleviate fatigue and depression.

Take A Good, Multivitamin/Mineral Supplement
Nutrients for the skin and wound healing include A, C, E, selenium and zinc. Having a good multivitamin/mineral supplement is essential for the recovering mom. Depletion of a number of nutrients during pregnancy is inevitable and is compounded by further losses through breastfeeding.

Get Enough Protein
Adequate protein intake is important so that tissue repair can be effective and unimpeded. If you are a vegetarian, this is especially important. It may be necessary for you to supplement with a protein powder.

No "Cleansing" Diets While Breastfeeding
Do not go on any kind of a "cleanse' or detoxification process while you are breastfeeding because of the toxic burden your baby will be exposed to.

A Healthy Diet Works Best For You And Your Skin

A healthy diet is essential to overall health and skin health. It is hard to go wrong with the consumption of a whole-foods diet low in processed and fried foods and high in fruits and vegetables.

Get Plenty Of Rest
This can be a challenge for any parent, but it is critical in maintaining a healthy glow to your skin (as well as keeping your sanity). The best advice I've come across is to 'sleep when the baby sleeps' whenever possible!


Dugald Seely is a Research Fellow and Professor for the Department of Clinical Epidemiology at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. He has clinical practices in both Ottawa and Toronto. His clinical and research interests are in women's health, pediatrics and cancer.

Published in March 2007

By Dugald Seely, ND| March 08, 2007

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