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postpartum body skin and hair care

On Post-Pregnancy, Post-Breastfeeding Body, Hair, Skin, Oh My!

By Amalah

Amy,

I need some advice. I secretly am hoping you will say “Oh, don’t worry! You won’t be flat chested forever!” but I get the feeling that it is just wishful thinking and I’ll need some way to cope with all of this.

Since giving birth, I am not happy with my body. I thought it would get better when my daughter weaned a few months ago, but it is worse. I have lifeless looking skin with the acne of a 12 year old, I sweat like a pig, and every deodorant/facesoap on the shelf doesn’t work. My already small breasts are even smaller (though now wider, making it impossible to find a comfortable bra that offers any kind of assistance). I was semi prepared for the massive hair loss early on, but had know idea the hair that grew back would be a completely different type of hair. It looks like I have, ahem, a different type of hair growing out of sections of my head.

My daughter is now 14 months old and she is seriously the most chill baby ever. Since day one she’s been a great sleeper and has been thrilled to tag along to all our events/outings. So, I am not overly worn down, frazzled, or neglecting my “me” needs. But I am totally hating my postpartum body.

I didn’t have an drastic changes to my body. I got lucky with the stretch marks, already had a scar from another operation in the same place as my c-section scar, and never gained much weight thanks to 8 freaking months of puking. I feel guilty complaining and I feel shallow for fixing on these issues. My husband is supportive and thinks, outside of the acne, that I look great. (Clarification: he is supportive of my skin too, but doesn’t lie to me and tell the whiteheads are hot.)

Does this settle down ever? Is this even normal? Do I just need to have a million more babies to get back that amazing hair and skin? Is this a doctor issue or can you recommend some products/bra makers? I give up.

Signed,
At least my pit stains distracts from my breasts

Okay, let’s run through a couple superficial things before getting way existential.

First, everything you’re describing is, in fact, normal. From the actual changes to your (possibly not 100% in proportion) reaction to those changes. Some of the issues (hair, skin, sweat) will probably settle down as they’re likely hormonal in nature; other things are going to be things you’ll need to find a way to embrace and accept as your new normal. I can’t guarantee which issues fall into what category, but I can totally tell you that I have been there with you, staring at the mirror and hating what I saw and wondering what the hell happened, refusing to believe that “YOU HAD A BABY” is what happened, because that implied everything I saw was permanent and unfixable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

So NEW & REVISED FIRST

Get yourself professionally measured for a bra, if you haven’t already. Get some professional bra-shopping guidance. (Personally I’d recommend Nordstrom or a small local lingerie boutique, if you have one of those. I’d also advise NOT doing it at Victoria’s Secret. I am a different size there than any other place on earth, and have had really hit-or-miss experiences with their measuring services.)

Personal anecdote time! Before having any babies, I was a 32A, about as flat-chested as you get. (I’d even say one side skewed even smaller, to an AA cup.) Throughout my years of pregnancies and breastfeeding and weaning I was all over the size map, and once Ike weaned I decreed to myself that I was now a 34A. Maybe a small B, but the fact that none of my old dresses would zip up farther than mid-rib cage told me the changes had mostly settled in my band size. I was wider, but not “bigger.”

After a couple months in 34A bras, however, my boobs started to ache. To the point that I took pregnancy tests because of the soreness. Then I realized that wow, I spend an awful lot of my time yanking and adjusting my bra. Maybe I’m wearing the wrong size? I pulled out a measuring tape and followed the online instructions for self-measuring. My results were so ridiculously unbelievable to me that I refused to accept them, so I went to Nordstrom for a second opinion.

Her results were the same as mine. I am not 34A, I am a 32C. WHAAAAAATTTTT. “Wider” actually meant “bigger,” even though to my untrained, warped-by-photoshop-and-implant-shaped-cantaloupe-boobs-in-magazines eyes, I never, ever would have put myself in the C-cup range. It’s possible that you’re mashing your new different-shape-but-still-the-same-cup-size boobs into something that just doesn’t fit, and with the correct cup size you might open up a whole new fabulous world of just buying bras off the rack because you’re buying them in the right size. (Unless you’re at VS and trying on one of their smoosh-your-boobs-up-to-your-neck-bone push-up bras. I can’t even breathe in their 32 bands, and my cup size changes based on the bra style.)

Another option that I have not tried but have been super-tempted by is the Jockey Fit Kit, which really focuses on the different SHAPES natural boobs come in to determine the best bra size for you. (Has anyone tried this? What did you think??)

Even if your professional bra fitting DOES determine that you’ve gone down a cup size, finding and wearing the correct size will make you feel so, so much better. I’m wearing a basic one from freaking TARGET right now and it’s great. No yanking and repositioning or sliding/digging straps. Everything is smooth and nice-looking under my clothes. Sure, I could stand in front of the mirror and fuss over how my boobs are lower and farther apart and don’t they look hotter if I just lift them and do *this,* but screw that. They fed my kids and now they’re mine and I like ’em. My husband is a really big fan too, and I personally trust his judgment in this department.

Okay, SECOND. Skin and Hair.

(Disclaimer: since you didn’t mention your specific skin/hair type in your letter, I usually consider said lack of details to be a “tell” that the letter-writer has identified with me and considers us similar. As such, my answers are about my hair/skin type but I try to be more general wherever possible. In addition, I would very much welcome and invite commenters to share what has worked for their hair/skin types during this postpartum phase.)

The hair regrowth will chill out. It does kinda grow back in as wispy baby fly-aways, but with a little more length it will settle down and blend in. You’re probably stuck in the middle of the “baby bangs” transitional period right now and it is not fun. But it is temporary. Here’s a couple tips for getting them to lay flat:

1) After applying hand cream, gently smooth your hands over your hair. (You can do this multiple times a day.)

2) Spritz some spray shine (I like Bed Head’s) into your palms and do the same move as with the moisturizer. The spray shine will add a little weight/grit to the flyaways and help them blend in. Applying it to your hands vs. spraying on your head directly allows you to target certain areas and won’t leave your roots greasy.

3) Once the new hair is a few inches long, use a smoothing/glossing cream (I like Fekkai’s).

4) A couple times a week, indulge in a hair/scalp treatment. You can make these at home, customized to your hair type. Think mayo, mashed avocado, eggs, baking soda, etc. You didn’t describe your hair type so I’ll leave it open for you to Google; alternatively you could try a ready-made one from Lush. I LOVE the “Roots” treatment for fine/thin hair in particular. Lots of volume and shine and my hair is growing in much stronger.

Now. Skin.

My advice for skin-in-hormonal-crisis is still basically the same after all these years. Back away from the harsh scrubs and drying acne treatments and strive for a balanced, gentle routine.

1) Pick a face wash for ALL SKIN TYPES. Nothing with grit or scrubby things — those can actually CAUSE whiteheads by leaving tiny little tears in your skin’s surface. I recommend (in order) Purity by Philosophy, Fresh Farmacy by LUSH, or the original Liquid Neutrogena cleanser.

2) Pick a moisturizer for YOUR SKIN TYPE. And remember that hormonal acne and blemishes do NOT automatically make your skin type “oily.” You should only use products labeled for “oily” skin if you can actually blot off oil from your skin several times a day. So a few hours after your morning cleansing/make-up application, look at your t-zone. Is it super shiny with an oily sheen? If you use a blotting paper does it absorb a significant amount of oil? If so, YES, your skin is oily. But for many of us, even with zits and blackheads and visible pores, we actually fall more into the category of combination-to-normal. (Because “normal” is NOT the same as “perfect and flawless!” Normal just means…human. Skin. The good and the bad.)

For breakout-prone skin of all types, however, I still think there’s no better option than Philosophy’s Hope In a Bottle moisturizer, but it’s gotten ridiculously hard to find. If you can find some, BUY IT. BUY TWO. I’ve gotten annoyed with not being able to consistently find it (and have had baaaaaad luck buying online from places other than Sephora or Ulta — I’ve gotten expired products), so I’ve joined the Lush hive mind and use their moisturizer for combo skin. (Imperialis.)

3) Use a treatment mask 3x/week. HERE is where you bust out the big guns — NOT on your 2/x day routine. Consider it your “me” time and slather on some good mud and other crap. (Do it at the same time as your hair mask! Soak your feet in some epsom salts! Take a bubble bath!)  Let it dry, wash off with your gentle cleanser and then immediately moisturize to keep your skin from overcompensating with more oil production. I like Ahava’s Purifying Mud Mask, Philosophy’s Microdelivery line and just about ANY of the Lush Fresh Face Masks. (I buy so many Lush products these days that I get the masks for free by bring back empty pots of everything else.)

One thing about the masks: You may notice more blemishes at first. I don’t claim to understand skincare science but it seems like these heavy-duty penetrating masks/peels can bring all the crap that’s deep in your pores up to the surface where it wreaks a little bit of last-ditch havoc. After a week or two, you should definitely notice an improvement. After two weeks, if your skin STILL seems “worse,” that means you’re probably using something that’s too harsh and drying and should step down to something gentler, or only use it to target certain areas. (I love Lush’s Cupcake mask for clearing out blackheads in my t-zone, for example, but if I use it on my whole face my skin completely freaks out.)

Sweating

As for the sweating issue, try Certain Dri. If that doesn’t work, see a dermatologist for something prescription strength. However, this one might eventually resolve itself in time. But Certain Dri is the BOMB for heavy sweaters.

Self-Image

Okay. Whew. Now that we’ve barreled through the practical stuff, let’s talk about the glaring self-image problems you’ve got going on here. Please please please — from someone older and saggier and stretch-markier — don’t waste another minute hating your body. Don’t let that hate poison your mind, mood, outlook, sex life, conversations with your husband, your friends, any of it. Because that’s what that sort of hate does. I know, because I’ve been there and done that. Even before babies! When I was young and hot and smooth! But you know, my thighs could’ve been smaller and my boobs could have been bigger and I didn’t like my moles or my thin lips or or or. (Oh LULZ, gurl.)

I’m 35 now, I have cellulite and a non-defined jawline and extra marked-up skin around my stomach that kinda rolls up around my waistband when I sit down and it’s not going away (unless I have surgery). I have lines around my eyes and look absolutely haggard without makeup. I can blame pregnancy for the stomach thing and age for most of the other stuff and I can’t even imagine still caring about crap like thin lips and moles that aren’t cancer. But I will never be younger than I am right now. I will probably never be hotter than I am right now. Hell, even if I got a tummy tuck and lost 15 pounds….I would still be older and WHO KNOWS what’s going to start sagging/wrinkling/spreading out next.

So carpe diem. I wore a bikini at the beach this summer and even DARED to take my cover-up off when going in the ocean, revealing my absolutely not-perfect beach body to like, air and other people. Today I’m going to do my hair and makeup later to the best of my meager ability and put on some pants that fit (even if they are a bigger size than I wore once upon a time) and hopefully create some new smile lines during my time with my family. Maybe later I’ll send a naughty photo of my boobs to my husband’s phone, like the Kids Today, or something.

It took me a long, long time to get to this point of acceptance with my age and body. I wish I’d gotten here sooner, instead of spending years feeling badly about it all and trying to cover up, fix, improve (with varying, mostly-unimpressive results). I hope you can find a way to join me here too, sooner rather than later. Because I bet you are smoking hot, lady. Own it. Love it.

Amazon Mom

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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