The Causes of Postpartum Acne

You might expect many things after having a baby, such as being sleep-deprived and having stretch marks, but you might not have expected having acne eruptions and having to deal with pimples. Why does this occur?

Mother sitting on exercise ball with baby
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Acne After Pregnancy Is Normal

The sudden appearance (or reappearance) of pimples can be narrowed down to one word—hormones. Acne is triggered by hormonal changes in the body. That’s why people often start breaking out during puberty, around the time of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and immediately post-pregnancy. It’s all because of hormones.

Just as your body changes during pregnancy and beyond, your skin changes too. So, you may find yourself breaking out for the first time during pregnancy, or in the weeks and months after giving birth.

Existing acne may clear up during pregnancy, or it may not. Giving birth may make existing acne better, or it may make it worse. It’s all normal. And remember that everybody has a different postpartum experience, so your skin isn’t going to follow the same course as your friend’s or sibling's.

Your post-pregnancy acne may last for a short time and disappear on its own. Or it may stick around much longer. Either way, your post-pregnancy acne can be treated.

Treating Acne When Breastfeeding

Just as you were careful about the medications you used during pregnancy, you have to be careful about what acne treatments you are using while breastfeeding.

As a general rule, over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments are safe to use while you’re breastfeeding. You’ll want to ask your OB-GYN just to double-check, though. Every case is different.

Try an OTC product containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or glycolic acid. These can help get mild breakouts under control.

But if your pimples are deep, painful, and red, or you have a lot of them, prescription treatments might be the way to go. Typically, topical treatments are preferred when you’re breastfeeding. Topical antibiotics, azelaic acid, prescription benzoyl peroxide, or a combination of these are among what your healthcare provider would prescribe.

The use of topical retinoids during breastfeeding is controversial because there are no studies to confirm that they are not harmful to the baby.

Treating Acne When Not Breastfeeding

If you’re not breastfeeding, you have a few more options, including oral acne medications.

Many women are also prescribed oral contraceptives to help control acne because they help regulate hormones that trigger breakouts. This may be something you’d like to ask your healthcare provider about, especially if you need birth control options anyway.

Signs It's Time to See a Healthcare Provider

There are plenty of changes going on in your body right now. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's normal and what warrants a visit to the doctor.

Here are some reasons to call your healthcare provider:

  • Your acne is very inflamed, severe, or painful.
  • Acne is in weird places.
  • You've tried to treat acne on your own and it won't go away.
  • Any time you have questions or are unsure. That's what your healthcare provider is there for, after all.

A Word From Verywell

Above all, try to enjoy the wonder of this time; it's fleeting and will be gone in the blink of an eye. Besides, your baby always thinks you look gorgeous no matter what.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pugashetti R, Shinkai K. Treatment of acne vulgaris in pregnant patients. Dermatol Ther. 2013;26(4):302-11. doi:10.1111/dth.12077.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Is any acne treatment safe to use during pregnancy?

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Stubborn acne? Hormonal therapy may help.

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.