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Nails in pregnancy

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Pregnancy can bring many surprises to your body, and you may not have expected changes to your hair, nails, and skin. Some find their nails become much stronger and longer, while others complain that nails are brittle and break easily.

These changes are caused by the changes in hormones in pregnancy, so luckily, they don't last forever and usually revert back to your pre-pregnancy state after delivery.

You may notice changes that warrant a trip to the doctor, such as deep grooves that develop on the nails or the nail becoming thickened and lifting from the nail bed (onycholysis).

What's the best way to look after my nails?

The best advice, as always, is to keep things simple. Keeping your nails short prevents them from getting caught on things frequently and avoids the build-up of germs and bacteria. If they are brittle, you can use nail hardeners. If they are too long, you can file them down in one direction or use your nail clippers.

Moisturizing emollients on your hands and cuticles can be a great way to strengthen them, as well as using gloves when doing activities that can expose you to irritants or chemicals, like when washing dishes or cleaning up.

As ever, your diet is extremely important and provides essential minerals and vitamins for good nail health. Foods rich in biotin, like spinach, broccoli, nuts, and eggs, as well as taking your daily prenatal supplements, is strongly advised.

Can I get cosmetic nail treatments while pregnant?

Gentle scrubs and massages of your hands and feet can be great for improving circulation, reducing fluid build-up, and relieving any discomfort. Plus, it makes you feel good at a time you should be investing in caring for yourself.

Getting manicures and pedicures is generally considered safe. The level of chemicals in nail polishes is considered to be too small to cause any harm to the unborn baby, but if you want to err on the side of caution, nail varnish that is water-based, hypoallergenic, and non-flammable is a safer option. Avoid products containing chemicals that are known to be linked to pregnancy-related problems in larger amounts, such as those containing formaldehyde, phthalates, and acetone.

Be mindful that strong smells can add to nausea and headaches when you may feel more sensitive to this during pregnancy. Acetone, a chemical used to remove nail polish, is strong-smelling and can also cause irritation if it comes into contact with the skin, so wash it off immediately.

Acrylic nails bring a higher chance of infection.

Pharmacist recommended products

When should I see my doctor?

Painful, red, swollen nails or surrounding tissue may suggest a bacterial infection, especially if it's discharging pus. A fungal nail infection may be underlying yellow, thickened, or lifting nails. Review these with your doctor – bacterial infections are more urgent than fungal infections.

Equally, if you are concerned and have tried your own treatments at home without any improvement, you should also contact your doctor.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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