Can Breastfeeding Cause Acne?

Post pregnancy acne is something that many women suffer from after giving birth. Generally, it isn’t related directly to breastfeeding. The hormones that women experience after giving birth will commonly cause acne problems. Most of us who have gone through pregnancy and the postpartum period understand just how wacky all those hormones really were. (Ask any mom who spent a day crying uncontrollably from happiness). However, some women find that their post pregnancy acne is worse when they are breastfeeding. They wonder, can breastfeeding cause acne?

Oh, the hormones…

When breastfeeding, there are a lot of hormones that your body produces to ensure that you make the milk you need.

Prolactin, manufactured by the pituitary gland in your brain, is the chemical that is responsible for the making of milk. Your baby nursing at your breast is a signal to the body to make more prolactin.

Oxytocin controls tiny muscles that squeeze the milk out through the milk ducts (and eventually out of the nipple). It is also the hormone that makes the uterus contract during labor and afterwards.

Both of these hormones help you form an emotional bond with your baby.

But how do these hormones do a number on my skin?

Unfortunately, the glands on your face, neck, and chest are sensitive to hormonal changes in your body. The prolactin and oxytocin in your body aren’t directly stimulating these oil glands. But the changes in the hormone levels do have the side impact of increasing oil production.

Where there is excess oil on your skin, there is more opportunity for that oil to mix up with dead skin and clog up your pores.

Other post-pregnancy causes of acne

Hormones aren’t the only possible culprit.

Stress

The changes in hormones are just one potential cause of acne post-pregnancy. The stress of bringing a new baby home and trying to breastfeed them on a regular basis can also cause hormone changes that can affect a woman’s skin.

Bad Food

New moms are busy, busy taking care of their new baby. In most cases, they aren’t doing a ton to take care of themselves. It isn’t unheard of for a new mom to just eat whatever is put in front of her in this initial weeks and months. This includes foods that have been known to contribute to acne, such as milk, sugar, chocolate, pasta, noodles, breads, and other refined carbs. Visitors who helpfully bring food don’t always bring the healthiest options.

(I’m pretty sure I ate pizza and sandwiches for about a month after my first child).

Hygiene

I’ll admit it. After my son was born, I struggled to shower, wash my face, comb my hair, change my clothes, and do tons of the other normal adult things I would normally do every day.

There wasn’t enough time. And I was TIRED.

I was more interested in taking a nap than taking a shower.

So sue me.

But forgoing your regular wash-up routine in favor of taking care of baby can contribute to breastfeeding acne.

Changing clothing and sheets

You may find yourself in the same comfy clothes for days on end. You might also spend a lot more time in your bed, with your head on the same pillowcase. There’s no shame in resting. Nursing while lying in bed is one of the easiest ways to rest and care for your baby at the same time.

But those pillow cases and comfy sweatshirts can get gross and contribute to annoying skin issues.

Dehydration?

Finally, when breastfeeding, many women become dehydrated without even knowing that it is a problem. With my first child, I couldn’t sit and nurse without a giant cup of water at my hand. And usually I would only remember it after baby was latched.

As it relates to acne, any dehydration can be a factor in skin problems. Making sure to drink plenty of water when breastfeeding won’t just stop dehydration in its tracks and help to combat acne, but can also help with other health problems, such as constipation and feeling weak or achy.

Natural Solutions for Acne While Breastfeeding

In general while breastfeeding, it is important to avoid using strong chemical washes or other treatments, especially those that can get into your milk and to your baby. You’ll want to avoid:

  • topical retinoids, like tretinoin, tazarotene and adapalene, especially products like accutane
  • oral clindamycin
  • tetracyclines

Instead, consider the solutions posed above, as well as:

  • herbal remedies, such as tea tree oil, rosewater, thyme, and tumeric
  • non-chemical exfoliants, such as baking soda or sugar scrubs
  • experiment with making your own natural cleansers
  • try food based masks incorporating avocado, honey, oatmeal (not always together)

Or splurge for a natural face wash that doesn’t contain any extra chemicals, fragrances, or additives.

Save serious acne solutions for when you are done breastfeeding

Once you’ve finished breastfeeding, you would then be in a position to assess the condition of your skin and pursue resolution of any skin problems you experienced. Hormones are such a huge component of what is going on with your skin. After you stop breastfeeding, your body will then begin to stabilize, and you should be able to see what sort of condition your skin is actually in.

In fact, I would say that a lot of women end up having to pursue more treatment for this skin post-baby because their skin problems ended up to be worse than they were during breastfeeding. (This is my personal experience, and I know that I am not alone here).

Post-baby (and into my late 30s), I have also experienced some pretty massive changes in my skin, not just on my face but on the rest of my body as well. A lot more dry skin, and the skin itself is not as elastic as it was before. Maybe because it was stretched out? Or maybe because I’m just getting darn old. Either way, you can take this all into account as the “new you” post-baby and come up with the best possible regimine.

For more info about breastfeeding, check out our Breastfeeding FAQs post: 100 Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms.

Thanks for reading!

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