It's supposed to be the happiest and most exciting time in our lives. But so many pregnant ladies and new mums reach out to me in total despair because motherhood is sending their skin crazy. If this is happening to you, or if you're worried about it happening to you - you're not alone. Download my FREE pregnancy skin care guide here to read what other mums say about their experience.
Now, before any of these stories put you off conception, let me reassure you that we're all a little different when it comes to our skins reaction to incubation and child birth. For some mums-to-be, their chronic skin conditions clear completely - they tell me they wish they could spend their lives pregnant simply for the relief of not dealing with skin disease! Other new mums see skin flare during pregnancy, but heal right after childbirth. So what on earth is going on?
Well, old school thinking used to suggest that a mothers immune system becomes naturally suppressed during pregnancy. Designed not to reject the 'foreign body' we're carrying (ie the baby) our body behaves in the same way it would had we been prescribed immunosuppressants for an organ transplant. It calms its response so as not to terminate the pregnancy. Auto immune conditions such as psoriasis were thought to heal during pregnancy because of this suppressive process.
PREGNANCY, INFLAMMATION AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Last year Dr. Brice Gaudilliere and his team from the University of California, shared a different perspective based on their research. A less linear way of thinking which makes absolute sense. He suggested that rather than simply suppress the immune system throughout pregnancy, the body's response is a little more complex. In fact to allow the developing embryo to implant, some of its cells actively invade the womb's lining. This leads to an inflammatory cascade, similar to the events that occur during wound healing. This temporary inflammation persists for 12 weeks, before eventually that immune system suppression does kick in.
During the following 15 weeks, the developing foetus is in a state of rapid growth. Anti-inflammatory cells and molecules prevail. The embryo releases some of the fathers cells into the womb and to ensure the mothers body does not see those as foreign invaders and reject the foetus, regulatory T cells, which are a specialised form of white blood cell that promote an anti-inflammatory environment, actively protect such foetal cells.
During the final stage of pregnancy, the immune system switches back to a pro-inflammatory state. Without this, the mother cannot go into labour. So as you can see from Dr Gaudilliere's findings, the process is more of a rollercoaster than a linear timeline.
PREGNANCY, MICROBIOME AND SKIN CONDITIONS
Here is the part that most interests me; research suggests that a host of factors influence how the immune system behaves during pregnancy, and increasingly, scientists believe that the mother's microbiome has a part to play. But what is the microbiome and can we change it?
Microbiome is super important, not just for our immunity but for our metabolism too. It affects how we absorb vitamins, it impacts fat storage and it can even influence our behaviour - making it an essential organ, without which we would not function correctly. I believe the microbiome also plays a crucial role in chronic illness, especially skin conditions. The human microbiome has an estimated 100 trillion microbes, the bulk of which live in our gut. You might have heard of 'good gut bacteria' - this is those microbes.
The positive news in all of this is that we can directly impact the bacteria in our gut, which I believe is key to resolving chronic symptoms on the surface of the skin. So how do we go about doing this? Many different elements in our everyday lives can have a direct affect on gut bacteria;
- What we eat
- Our stress levels
- How well we sleep
- How much we exercise
- The medication we take
- Exposure to pollution
Some of these things we might struggle to do anything about, whilst others are completely within our control.
DIET, PREGNANCY AND MICROBIOME
Making positive dietary changes such as adding more fruit, veg, nuts and seeds to your diet is a great idea. Eating fermented foods are a fantastic option to boost good bacteria even further. Sauerkraut, tempeh and miso soup are all safe options for pregnancy.
STRESS, PREGNANCY AND MICROBIOME
When it comes to stress during pregnancy, this can not only negatively impact your own gut bacteria, but your baby's too. A study addressing the effects of stress on pregnancy found that of the 56 infants observed, those born to mothers who were stressed during pregnancy had disturbed gut microbiota. They had more harmful bacteria, and lower levels of ‘good bacteria’. As a result, these babies were also more prone to gut disorders and allergic reactions. Pregnancy whilst struggling with chronic skin disease can be stressful for all sorts of reasons. I've found guided meditations to be incredibly beneficial for helping me deal with any number of stressful situations. Get started by downloading your free one here.
SLEEP, PREGNANCY AND MICROBIOME
It doesn’t take long for poor sleep to affect your gut, and of course sleep can feel all too absent during pregnancy. The relationship between sleep and the microbiome is increasingly seen as a two-way street. Our gut bacteria seems to affect how we sleep. In turn, sleep and circadian rhythms appear to affect the health and diversity of the important bacterial world that lives in our gut. Getting rest is really important. As difficult as it may seem to get enough sleep at times, it's actually crucial for your gut well-being and health of your skin.
WHY PREGNANCY AFFECTS SKIN
So, why do we see all these strange behaviours in our skin at times throughout pregnancy, and why does each mothers experience differ a little from the next? Hormones, the immune system and our microbiome are all complex processes. With so many changes happening in the body over a relatively short space of time, it's no wonder our system can freak out. Whilst it can be terrifying and upsetting at the time, try to remember this is only temporary. Focus on what you can do to keep that good gut bacteria prominent. Eating right, sleeping well, gentle exercise and stress management are all key to maintain a healthy microbiome throughout pregnancy and beyond.
Click here to download my FREE mum-to-be and new mum skin care guide. I'd love to hear about your experience during and after pregnancy. Share your story in the comments below.