Why Do You Have Postpartum Acne?

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Mother sitting on exercise ball with baby

Having a baby is one of the most amazing experiences in life. But it’s not all magical. Honestly, the postpartum period is tough. 

I expected to be sleep-deprived and tied down to my little one’s eating/sleeping/pooping schedule. But I didn’t expect to feel so not gorgeous. Nobody told me I’d have an entirely new body – stretch marks to make a tiger jealous, saggy tummy reminiscent of a deflated beach ball, hair falling out by the fistfuls. And what’s with the pimples?

Acne after Pregnancy Is Normal

The sudden appearance (or reappearance) of pimples can be narrowed down to one word: hormones.

Acne is triggered by hormonal changes in the body. That’s why people often start breaking out during puberty, around the time of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy and immediately post-pregnancy. It’s all because of hormones. 

Just as your body changes during pregnancy and beyond, your skin changes too. So, you may find yourself breaking out for the first time during pregnancy, or in the weeks and months after giving birth. Existing acne may clear up during pregnancy, or it may not. Giving birth may make existing acne better, or it may make it worse. It’s all normal, Mama.

And remember that everybody has a different postpartum experience, so your skin isn’t going to follow the same course as your friend’s or sister’s.

Your post-pregnancy acne may last for a short time and disappear on its own. Or it may stick around much longer. Either way, your post-pregnancy acne can be treated. 

Treating Acne When You’re Breastfeeding

Just as you were careful about the medications you used during pregnancy, you have to be careful about what acne treatments you are using while breastfeeding. 

As a general rule, over-the-counter acne treatments are safe to use while you’re breastfeeding (you’ll want to ask your OBGYN just to double-check, though. Every case is different.) 

Try an OTC product containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or glycolic acid. These can help get mild breakouts under control.

But if your pimples are deep, painful, red, or you have a lot of them, prescription treatments will be the way to go. Typically, topical treatments are preferred when you’re breastfeeding. Topical antibiotics, azelaic acid, and prescription benzoyl peroxide, or a combination of these are among what your physician would prescribe.

Treating Acne When You’re Not Breastfeeding

If you’re not breastfeeding, you have a few more options. In addition to the OTC and prescription treatments listed above, your doctor may also prescribe topical retinoids or oral acne medications. 

Many women are also prescribed oral contraceptives to help control acne because they help regulate hormones that trigger breakouts. This may be something you’d like to ask your doctor about, especially if you need birth control options anyway.

Signs It’s Time to See a Doctor

There are plenty of changes going on in your body right now. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s normal and what warrants a visit to the doc. Here are some reasons to call your doctor:

  • Your acne is very inflamed, severe, or painful.
  • Acne is in weird places. (My friend assumed the pimple-like bumps on her inner thighs were some strange post-pregnancy acne breakouts. It turns out she had a staph infection, so don’t assume that every skin problem is caused by post-birth hormones.) 
  • You’ve tried to treat acne on your own and it won’t go away.
  • Any time you have questions or are unsure. That’s what your doctor is there for, after all. 

Above all, try to enjoy the wonder of this time; it’s fleeting and will be gone in the blink of an eye. Besides, your baby always thinks you look gorgeous no matter what.

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