Ask the doctor: Is pregnancy ‘glow’ real?

It’s one of those compliments that gets offhandedly said to a pregnant woman: “You’re glowing! You look so good.”

Funny, you think to yourself. I spend most days throwing up, I’m stacking on the weight and all I want to eat is bacon – but I’ll take it!For some women, though, the ‘glow’ takes a little while to really turn on.

I, myself, battled with acne and a bit of a ‘green pallor’ in the first trimester of both my pregnancies. Someone told me that was because I had boys – but I am not convinced.  

What accounts for the pregnancy glow, medically speaking?

According to women’s health GP, Dr Sneha Wadhwani, it all comes down to our hormones.

“These changes arise because of increased blood supply, oestrogen and progesterone, which occur in the mother during pregnancy – leading to fundamental changes in the body which can alter the appearance of the lips, skin, hair, and nails,” Sneha said.

Thank you, increased blood flow

“The skin may ‘glow’ because of increased blood flow to the skin, causing cell turn over and hence old skin cells to be shed, leaving brighter, plumper and more radiant looking skin as a result,” says Sneha.

“Mucous membranes in the body also swell, looking plumper and fuller. So this can affect the gums and eyes, but also the lips.”

Some lucky women who may have always battled with skin conditions might find themselves experiencing a period of relief from symptoms.

“Some skin conditions can improve in pregnancy because of a slight suppression of the immune system. The body is housing something different and foreign and as such doesn’t want to reject it. This state of mild immune suppression means that immune-mediated conditions like eczema and psoriasis may improve, resulting in improved appearance of the skin,” says Sneha.

Thicker, shinier, glossier hair

Hormones can also be thanked (or blamed) for having several good hair days during pregnancy.

“It may appear thicker and shinier because pregnancy hormones suspend the hair follicles in the anagen, or active phase of growth,” says Sneha.

“This means that less hair falls and more grows, giving a healthier appearance to the hair. Progesterone increases the sebaceous secretions from the scalp, further making the hair look more moisturised and shiny.”

Nails are affected similarly to the hair and as such, may appear longer and feel much stronger.

And now for the bad news … 

(Or the good news if your normally lovely hair, skin and nails have taken a dive bomb during pregnancy.)

We knew it was coming, right?

A bit like in the story of Cinderella who returns to her ‘normal life’ when the clock strikes midnight, once the baby arrives everything kind of goes back to normal.

“Because these changes are indeed occurring under the influence of pregnancy hormones and physiology and as such, after childbirth, the body can start to restore to its pre-pregnant state as soon as four to six weeks postnatal.”