All You Wanted to Know About Stretch Marks

Stretch marks

Stretch marks. If you have been pregnant, then you probably have them and have learned to live with them. If you don’t have them, well, you are a lucky lady! That’s what most women would say. The truth of the matter is that this is a polarizing topic: while some women fear them and will not even talk about them, others consider them a “red badge of motherhood.” Stretch marks are visible signs of motherhood.

What is a stretch mark and why do they occur?

Stretch marks are small tears in the elastic fiber tissue under your skin as it’s pulled tight during pregnancy. They’re also known as stria or striae. If you get them, they usually appear on your belly, or sometimes on your upper thighs and breasts as your pregnancy progresses. Think about it. During the approximately 9 months of pregnancy, you put on and then lost somewhere between 22lb and 28lb (although weight gain varies a great deal from woman to woman – more about this here). Gaining weight that fast can certainly leave you with stretch marks, especially on your belly and breasts. Some women are also genetically susceptible to stretch marks: if your mother had them, then you have a higher chance of having them as well. Also, darker-skinned women are less likely to get stretch marks than fair-skinned ladies (plus they’re not as visible on dark skin). But virtually every woman is “at risk” of stretch marks. That’s why about 90% of women will get them sometime after their sixth or seventh month of pregnancy.

Additional risk factors for stretch marks

The more your skin has to expand during pregnancy and the more quickly it happens, the more likely you are to develop stretch marks. For this reason, you’re more likely to get stretch marks if:

  • You gain a lot of weight rapidly.
  • You’re carrying multiples.
  • You’re carrying a big baby.
  • You have excess amniotic fluid.

Can stretch marks be prevented?

Unfortunately not. There is limited evidence about whether oils or creams help prevent stretch marks from appearing in the first place. Many women apply natural oils on their lower back, legs, thighs, sides, and belly. Bio oil, Shea butter, almond oil, wheat germ oil, cocoa butter, and pure lanolin are quite popular oils for moisturizing the skin of pregnant women.

It’s important that you don’t diet when you’re pregnant thinking that losing weight will prevent stretch marks. You should eat foods packed with antioxidants as they will help protect and nourish your skin. They include vegetables and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and spinach. You should also eat foods rich in Vitamin E (collard greens, broccoli, avocados, seeds, and nuts), as they protect the cell membranes of your skin.

Exercise helps to retain your skin’s elasticity by improving circulation. Additionally, you will be able to keep off those extra pounds.

  • Perform exercises for pregnant women. They include kegel exercises, stretches and all other simple movements.
  • Try low impact exercises and yoga (read more about it here). Pilates and yoga help you get rid of uncomfortable positions during pregnancy.

What products can I use to “treat” the marks?

Some creams claim to remove stretch marks once they’ve appeared, but there is no reliable evidence that they work. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to keep your skin hydrated with a rich lotion or cream.

The best time to treat the marks is while they’re still in the reddish stage. Gels made with a mix of onion extract and hyaluronic acid may help. Cocoa butter may help as well. After you give birth, your dermatologist can prescribe tretinoin (Retin-A) and glycolic acid or laser therapy (Note: Retin-A is not safe to use during pregnancy and there’s no reliable information on the amount excreted in breast milk or its effect on a nursing infant, so it’s best avoided while breastfeeding.) Be aware that the appearance of stretch marks is considered a cosmetic issue, so insurance probably won’t cover the cost of dermatology appointments, medications, and procedures.

Watch your weight. Keep an eye on that scale during pregnancy and put your pounds on slow and steady instead of in big spurts. You can find more information about a healthy diet here and here.

Fortunately, in most women, stretch marks fade about 6 to 12 months after childbirth to less noticeable (and more easily concealable) silvery lines.

Finally, consider that the stretch marks are a part of your new mom body. A small price to pay for the joy of the miracle of motherhood you will now experience for the years to come.

Diego Wyszynski
Dr. Diego Wyszynski is the Founder and CEO of Pregistry. He is an expert on the effects of medications and vaccines in pregnancy and lactation and an accomplished writer, having published 3 books with Oxford University Press and more than 70 articles in medical journals. In 2017, he was selected a TEDMED Research Scholar. Diego attended the University of Buenos Aires School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

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