Breastfeeding comes with a wide range of benefits, including unmatched nutritional value for your little one and maximum bonding time. But what happens when you stop breastfeeding? Usually, another shift in hormones means another wide range of body changes, potentially resulting in depression, PMS, fatigue, and mood swings. Oh, and another big one? Acne. A lot of moms face (no pun intended) post-breastfeeding skin issues, so if you're experiencing acne after weaning, please know that you are not alone.
Hormonal Changes While Weaning
So why are you experiencing an issue that most left behind in their high school years?
“Acne is caused by a build-up of sebum or oil that’s naturally produced by the body and released through pores,” Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist, tells Romper. “We’re often left with an unsightly, swollen, irritated pimple when a pore becomes clogged and the oil becomes trapped. Acne is a common occurrence after weaning due to the huge fluctuation in hormones that happens during this period.”
Green says that while you’re breastfeeding, your body is producing a large amount of prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for the production of breast milk and the release of oxytocin during breastfeeding. And once the weaning process begins, there’s a shift in hormone production because there’s less prolactin and oxytocin being made, and there’s a surge in the production of progesterone and estrogen.
Since the body is sensitive to such shifts, there can be some side effects, says Green, like an increase in the amount of “sebum” produced, which clogs pores and makes them inflamed, causing acne while weaning.
Treatment Options For Acne After Weaning
“Hormonal acne that occurs after weaning may resolve on its own after the body’s hormone production swings back into a natural balance,” says Green. However, Green adds that hormonal acne can be painful to the touch and cause feelings of self-consciousness. So how do you effectively treat this dilemma?
La Leche League reported that a sudden or abrupt stop in breastfeeding can lead to a host of problems, not the least of them is a face full of hormonal acne. So slowly weaning may be beneficial to your skin and hormone levels.
“A consultation with a dermatologist like myself can help you determine which combination of treatments will work best for you,” Green says. “Adjusting your skin care regimen to include the proper cleansers, exfoliators, and treatment products such as benzoyl peroxide and topical retinoids and exfoliants can be beneficial, but it’s important to discuss with a professional which treatment products are best for your skin type to gain optimal results.
Dr. Nancy Shannon, board-certified physician, tells Romper, “One could try using anti-inflammatory treatments to calm the break-outs — topical antibiotics like clindamycin or azelaic acid. However, because acne that flares with weaning is hormonal, one would need to target the hormonal causes for the break-outs.”
Shannon suggests also discussing with your provider hormonal birth control pills and spironolactone, which appears acceptable to take during breastfeeding, especially if the acne is widespread or is starting to leave scars.
Another way to treat post-breastfeeding acne is by checking your stress level. Added stress can negatively affect how clear your skin is. Studies show periods of increased stress correlated with more breakouts. If you've stopped breastfeeding and are experiencing stress, a stress-related hormone called CRH, or corticotropin-releasing hormone, may "bind to receptors in the skin’s sebaceous glands, and that binding drives up the skin’s oil production — which can cause pimples," Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University tells Time.
Other Causes Of Post-Weaning Breakouts
Another potential cause of post-weaning breakout could be undiagnosed Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which, according to PCOS.com, affects 5 to 10% of women in the childbearing ages. But, again, it all comes down to your hormones and whether or not they're balanced.
Friedman also added that acne is essentially inflammation that's ignited by the body's response to stress. By finding ways to reduce stress — exercising, taking care of your nutrition, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated — especially after you stop breastfeeding, you'll help combat the reason for consistent breakouts.
Skincare Routine While Breastfeeding
“Fragrance-free, non-comedogenic products should be used,” Green says. She adds that breastfeeding recommendations vary from what’s recommended during pregnancy, so be sure to consult with your dermatologist before using a skincare product or treatment.
“Topical chemicals on the skin can theoretically get into breast milk; however, given the small surface area for which acne medications are applied, this is generally not an issue,” Shannon says, suggesting treatments such as alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid), azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or topical erythromycin, because they are generally considered safe to use during breastfeeding.
The consensus is clear: you can break out if you stop breastfeeding, thanks to the rapid fluctuation of hormones. That's why gradual weaning is recommended if you want to keep your breakouts at bay. Slowly phasing out feedings gives your body the chance to get used to the changes and, as a result, lowers your chances of experiencing severe cystic acne flare-ups. If you do experience persistent acne that doesn't seem to clear after your hormones should've settled back to neutral, you should talk to your physician about alternative treatments or medication.
Dr. Michele Green, cosmetic dermatologist.
Nancy Shannon, MD, PhD, Medical Advisor for Nurx.
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