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Pregnancy is a life-giving process that places significant strain on the body. During pregnancy, hormones transform the female form from the inside out.
Weight gain is a necessary component, and the abdomen expands to new levels as it welcomes a growing fetus. Internally, organs are pushed out of the way, joints reposition, and posture shifts. The abdominal muscles stretch, lose their tone, and separate at the midline.
The skin in turn also grows and is stretched to its limit, especially in the abdominal area.
Sagging Abdominal Skin After Pregnancy
After childbirth, evidence of these life-giving changes remains. One is in the form of a sagging belly. There is an excess of skin that looks wrinkly and loose. There may also be red or pale stretch marks, a C-section scar, and pigmentary changes.
The sagging belly will further be accentuated by localized fat deposits in this area, a misaligned posture, and weak/stretched out abs. This seemingly bleak image is actually quite normal and expected.
Contrary to what is sometimes portrayed in the media, the body does not simply bounce back like a rubber band. Time will gradually improve the picture as the body heals and transitions.
How to Repair and Tighten Your Abdominal Skin After Childbirth
There are various ways to deal with sagging abdominal skin.
Surgical treatments and medical devices can certainly help and may offer faster, more dramatic results. Red or purple stretch marks, for example, have been shown to respond to laser treatment. (1)
However, many mothers want to heal their postpartum bodies naturally, as they focus on caring for their new baby, often choosing to breastfeed.
Here are 10 natural ways of dealing with loose skin after pregnancy.
1. Drink lots of fluids
Healthy skin needs an abundance of water. The fluids you drink hydrate you from within as they make their way to the deep skin layers via the bloodstream. Once there, water molecules bind to molecules that live in the dermis called glycosaminoglycans.
One glycosaminoglycan you may have heard of is hyaluronic acid. It is found in many skin care products and is the ingredient used in popular dermal fillers. (2) It is important to note that lactating women will have even greater water demands to assist in milk production.
It is a good idea to drink lots of water throughout the day, and one way to do this is by keeping a water bottle or lactating tea at hand.
2. Prioritize sleep
This is certainly easier said than done, especially with a new baby in the equation. Sleep is necessary to perform rejuvenating functions, including protein synthesis and tissue repair, both of which are required for maintaining healthy skin.
Additionally, insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality are associated with impaired glucose tolerance and obesity. (3)
The more sleep-deprived the mama, the harder it is to lose those fatty deposits that add bulge to the belly. Therefore, the saying “When baby sleeps, mommy sleeps” rings true in this respect. Try to sneak-in a restful nap whenever possible.
3. Exercise regularly
Obstetricians commonly recommend holding off on heavy exercise for the first six 6 weeks following a C-section or vaginal delivery. Once this period is over, it is time to settle into an exercise routine.
The intensity of any workout should correlate to your overall fitness level and comfort. Start slow and stop if you experience any pain.
- Regular aerobic exercise helps the skin because it promotes the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to it, which aids in collagen and elastin synthesis. It also reduces obesity and improves heart health.
- Specific exercises geared at strengthening the pelvic core in the postpartum period are a plus. These work to improve posture, increase mobility, and safely flatten the belly. The resulting core strength and proper alignment help minimize the appearance of loose sagging skin at the midriff.
- Yoga workouts with baby are a fun and healthy way to connect with your baby and other moms. Keep in mind, though, that while yoga provides many benefits, certain poses must be modified so that the rectus abdominal muscles and the delicate connective tissue that holds them together are protected. Be sure your instructor or coach goes through this with you.
4. Cleanse with care
Your skin has been through a lot and needs much tender loving care. You may have a C-section scar, hyperpigmentation of the skin in the form of the linea nigra, and/or stretch marks.
- Look for gentle cleansers formulated specifically for sensitive skin. Scrubs or harsh chemicals will only cause skin irritation, robbing the skin of that natural glow, and altering skin texture.
- Avoid hot showers, as high temperatures dehydrate the skin.
- Pat your skin softly with a clean towel, especially near stretch marks and the scar line.
5. Moisturize often
Moisturizers help keep skin moist and smooth. They do this by preventing the skin from drying out and protecting the topmost layer of the skin called the epidermis.
Moisturizers include a variety of topical formulations such as serums, lotions, gels, creams, waxes, and oils. They can be used liberally and massaged onto the skin as part of a self-care routine.
Organic oils are a popular choice as they are easy to apply and are readily absorbed by the skin. Avocado oil, raspberry seed oil, and olive oil contain high amounts of fatty acids that promote a healthy skin barrier for soft and supple skin. (4)
Prescription creams containing tretinoin have been shown to stimulate collagen production and reduce wrinkles. (1) However, the safety of tretinoin for abdominal skin tightening in lactating mothers is a subject of debate. Always consult your doctor before starting any prescription medication.
6. Steer clear of unhealthy habits
- Limit coffee and caffeinated tea. Caffeine should be limited to 200 mg per day (1 or 2 cups). Too much can interfere with your precious, restorative sleep. In addition, it can make breastfed infants fussy as it is transferred in breast milk. (5) Opt for herbal teas or water in the afternoon as you set the stage for restorative sleep patterns.
- Avoid alcohol as it dehydrates your skin, thereby robbing it of a healthy glow. Alcohol can also potentially decrease milk production and is passed through breast milk. (6)
- Quit smoking as it is an unhealthy habit that affects not only the smoker but everyone else in the household (including the baby). Smoking is also detrimental to skin health. It produces wrinkles, changes the skin tone, and slows wound healing. (5)
7. Mind the sun
Tanning your midriff will accentuate the existing stretch marks as these striae do not tan. (1) The linea nigra, which is a pigmented line that appears along the abdominal midline in many pregnant women, darkens upon sun exposure.
So, be mindful of your time in the sun. Go outside and have some fun. Just remember to cover up or put on physical sunscreen (SPF15 or greater) if you plan to be out for extended periods.
8. Eat nutrient-rich foods
The best way to obtain the necessary vitamins and minerals is through a healthy diet. Certain nutrients are particularly supportive of skin health:
- Vitamins A and C are needed for collagen and elastin production.
- Vitamins C and D are needed for proper wound healing.
- Vitamin E blocks collagen breakdown and helps moisturize and protect the skin.
Good sources of these vitamins include:
- Vitamin C – tomatoes, citrus fruits, and other vegetables
- Vitamin A – liver, fish oil, milk, and eggs
- Provitamin A – carrots, squash, and broccoli
- Vitamin E – nuts and seeds (2)
A healthy diet will generally be comprised of a colorful variety of vegetables and fruits, lean protein sources, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6, may also enhance collagen synthesis and moisturize the skin. Healthy fats are found in salmon, mackerel, flax, walnuts, sardines, poultry, grains, and other sources. (8)
9. Take your vitamins
- The CDC recommends the continuation of nutrient supplementation in nursing mothers. Do not exceed the daily recommended dose because of the risk of vitamin toxicity. While supplementation can help to compensate for any nutritional deficiencies, it should never substitute a healthy diet.
- Make sure you also continue taking essential fatty acids as well, namely, omega-3 and omega-6, which are building blocks of healthy cell membranes and act as anti-inflammatory compounds. (8)
- Collagen supplementation has been studied, and there is evidence it improves hydration, wrinkling, and skin elasticity. Collagen peptides derived from seafood are the best absorbed by the body because they are more bioavailable. (9)(10)
10. Work on stress management
Breathe in, relax, and be kind to yourself. Bringing a child into the world and caring for it is nothing short of reverential. Practice daily affirmations and any activity which decreases your stress levels.
Stress increases the production of the stress hormone, namely, cortisol, which causes the skin to become thinner at every layer, making the skin seem aged and saggy. (11) It turns out being happy makes you look better, not just feel better.
Stretch Marks During Pregnancy
The pregnancy bump causes extreme strain on the abdominal skin, which inevitably leads to skin damage.
Underneath the surface of the skin is a layer called the dermis. It is composed of many substances, most notably collagen and elastin, which are protein fibers.
Collagen is important because it provides skin with structure, but it is not very stretchy. During pregnancy, many of these fibers break and degenerate. Sometimes, these breaks are so dramatic that stretch marks form.
The extent of skin damage occurring with pregnancy will depend on several factors. Included among these are maternal age, amount of weight gain, whether the pregnancy is single or multiple, and genetic composition. (11)
Pregnancy is a life-giving process that comes with many changes to the body. Among these is a sagging belly. Severe cases may require surgery and/or treatment with medical devices.
Consult with a doctor if you are concerned. Nonetheless, the healthy habits mentioned in this article can benefit all new mothers in the quest for beautiful, tighter skin after childbirth.