As much as joy is associated with pregnancy and being a nursing mama, we all know these fleeting moments come with some serious restrictions. Goodbye, wine, hot baths, and sushi! Anyone into self-care and the latest wellness trends might feel even more limited. But it can be incredibly confusing to navigate what is and isn’t allowed while baking a bun in the oven, so to speak, and then while feeding your little bundle. “Pregnancy should be a time when the body feels nurtured, safe, and relaxed, and wellness treatments should be considered with this in mind,” said Dr. Charles Tabone, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor with Pause Studio in Los Angeles who suggests defaulting to a “gentle approach.”
In other words, pregnancy massages get two thumbs up, but some more extreme alternative modalities? Not so much. The good news? After recovering from childbirth, your options open up significantly. We asked Dr. Tabone and Dr. Nancy Samolitis, board-certified dermatologist and cofounder and medical director of Facile, to weigh in on the skincare and wellness treatments to book and also to avoid during these two highly vulnerable periods. Note that both doctors recommend consulting your own healthcare provider to get further guidance before doing anything.
Safe Skincare Treatments (With Some Modifications)
Dr. Samolitis’ recommendations for pregnant and nursing women are the exact same. “In general, a lot of the chemical active ingredients we usually recommend for anti-aging and treating skin conditions like acne are either known to be unsafe during pregnancy and nursing, or the effects may be unknown,” she says. Others, such as injectable botulinum toxin and filler treatments have not been studied. “It’s best to keep it simple and, luckily, the most effective anti-aging and protective skincare product, sunscreen, is safe to use!”
An anti-aging or hydrating facial is 100% safe as long as you let the esthetician know ahead of time about your status and they don’t use active ingredients like retinols or acids, says the dermatologist. At spots like Facile, they’ll prop you up so you’re not laying flat if you’re further along. High-frequency electro currents, LED light for cellular growth and repair, and deeply exfoliating microdermabrasion are all allowed with no worries. IPL (intense pulsed light, aka photofacial) is also a safe way to address sun damage as long as no topical anesthetic is used.
Just as it sounds, this procedure uses small needles to make tiny holes in your skin that stimulate collagen production. Pregnant and nursing women can still do it, but without any topical anesthetic, according to Dr. Samolitis. Since it’s minimally invasive, this may be a bit painful, so you’ll have to decide based on your own pain threshold.
Laser resurfacing, or laser peel, is a more invasive procedure that can reduce scars, blemishes, and wrinkles. But it’s also not for the faint of heart, since anyone nursing or pregnant has to endure the discomfort without topical anesthetic.
To improve the skin’s appearance, some opt for a chemical peel, in which a chemical solution application blisters away the damaged outer layers. Dr. Samolitis says it’s safe only with alpha-hydroxy acids.
Skincare Treatments to Avoid
Retinols (Vitamin A) and Tretinoin
Both of these anti-aging hero ingredients are strictly off-limits during both pregnancy and nursing, says Dr. Samolitis.
Botox and Fillers
Because the safety of these is unknown for pregnant and nursing women, Dr. Samolitis recommends avoiding them outright.
Wellness Treatment Considerations
Dr. Tabone warns that “it is important to be extra cautious during pregnancy, where nursing provides a little more leeway.” He continues, “If it can be perceived by the body as a major stress, the general rule should be to avoid it during pregnancy. Chronic stressors have a risk of negatively impacting both pregnancy and lactation, where acute stressors have more potential hazards for pregnancy.”
Pregnant: As long as you’re not at elevated risk of internal infection and you haven’t been warned against elevated magnesium intake, flotation therapy is a brilliant wellbeing practice for pregnant women, says Dr. Tabone. “The weightless sensation can take pressure off connective tissue and assist with alleviating body discomfort. Spending time in a relaxed state can do wonders for cognitive health”—aka baby brain!—“and help tune into the sensations of pregnancy.”
Nursing: First recover from your delivery—since salt can aggravate wounds, including damaged nipple tissue—then go for some floating sensory deprivation and slide into a state of rare “me time.” It’s the doctor’s top choice for both pregnant and nursing women, thanks to the numerous physical benefits and valuable calming reprieve it provides. “Applying a barrier to breast tissue prior to flotation therapy would be advised,” he added.
Pregnant: “While saunas have numerous benefits, the risks to a fetus of elevated maternal blood pressure and body temperature are significant, so they should be avoided in pregnancy,” says Dr. Tabone. As in, don’t bake your baby.
Nursing: There are some contraindications, but generally speaking Dr. Tabone says infrared saunas are safe for nursing mothers. “Similar to red light therapy, the frequencies of light in the sauna can heal tissue and promote milk production. The elevated temperature can further enhance lactation and ameliorate clogged ducts.” If oversupply is an issue, you may want to hold off.
Contrast therapy and ice baths
Pregnant: Those dramatic shifts in blood pressure are not recommended during pregnancy, since they are significant stressors and carry lots of risks. Avoid!
Nursing: “Lactation consultants have begun sharing the benefits of therapeutic application of cold to breast tissue to help temporarily constrict tissue and assist with breast engorgement,” says Dr. Tabone, adding that contrast therapy should be safe once a nursing mother has recovered from delivery and been cleared for submersion in liquid—unless cautioned against by your medical professional.
Pregnant: “Similarly to contrast therapy, acute stress and blood pressure shifts make cryotherapy contraindicated during pregnancy,” says Dr. Tabone. In other words, no freezing the baby! Avoid.
Nursing: Make sure your doctor medically clears you for cryotherapy before booking a session. Because it requires a dry environment, and nursing is most certainly not that, nursing mamas would need to cover their breasts, which would reduce the potential benefits. Dr. Tabone says you’re better off with cold water immersion to slow milk flow.
Red light therapy
Pregnant: “Take caution and use only devices certified to emit low radiation, as the non-thermal effects of EMFs can negatively affect biology,” says Dr. Tabone of red light exposure to the body. With the right device, pregnant gals can expect assistance with stretch marks, sleep, hormones, mental wellbeing, and muscle pains, he says.
Nursing: Beneficial in many ways and safe during nursing, Dr. Tabone says, “Specific to lactation, red light therapy can help support the cells responsible for milk production while also nurturing the skin tissue and ducts that experience trauma during nursing and/or pumping.”
Halotherapy or Himalayan salt room
Pregnant: Salt therapy, meant to improve respiratory function (maybe helpful when baby’s encroaching on the lungs!), allergies, and skin problems, is non-invasive, natural, gentle, and safe during this precious time.
Nursing: Since many OTC medications are not advisable, halotherapy can be an option for nursing moms with respiratory issues.
Pregnant: There are many potential benefits of acupuncture during pregnancy, from helping turn a baby in the wrong position to reducing pain and discomfort to helping induce labor. Acupuncture is perfectly safe.
Nursing: It may not be proven, only rumored, to improve milk supply, but acupuncture can also be helpful for postpartum recovery.