Stretch marks occur in up to 90% of women at any point in their lives.
They’re most commonly associated with pregnancy, because that’s the time of life when your body is doing the most stretching it’ll ever do.
You probably want to avoid or prevent stretch marks, and minimize their appearance if they do show up.
Read on for 7 facts about pregnancy stretch marks and how to prevent stretch marks.
You’ll also find extra tips about what treatments are available.
#1: Why do stretch marks appear?
Our skin is a very interesting body organ. It acts as a barrier and protects us from harmful things. It also adapts to inner body changes.
Normally our skin is quite elastic, thanks to collagen and elastin. These proteins break when our skin stretches or shrinks very quickly.
As the skin heals, this causes stretch marks to appear, like scars.
Striae distensae is the Latin name given to stretch marks in general. Striae gravidarum refers specifically to stretch marks during pregnancy.
#2: Who is more prone to stretch marks in pregnancy?
For women, puberty and pregnancy are the two life stages when stretch marks are more likely to appear.
During puberty, a girl’s body develops very quickly and fat starts to be redistributed on hips, buttocks, breasts, thighs, and legs.
Pregnancy weight gain causes our breasts and belly to experience fast growth. These are the areas where we are more likely to get stretch marks.
Stretch marks can also appear after weight loss or a sudden body change, like the one your belly experiences right after childbirth.
Genetics play a big role in deciding who is more likely to get stretch marks.
If your mother developed stretch marks when she was pregnant with you, it’s likely her skin is naturally low in elasticity. She might have passed that genetic marker on to you.
#3: When to expect stretch marks during pregnancy
Stretch marks can appear at any time during pregnancy. However, they’re more likely to appear from the sixth month onwards. This is when the skin in your belly really starts to stretch to accommodate your growing baby.
Stay vigilant. Even if not a single stretch mark has appeared by the sixth or seventh month, it can still happen as your skin keeps stretching.
#4: Stretch marks after pregnancy
Most women are told their stretch marks will disappear after birth. This is sometimes true, but they can also happen after birth, as your body changes and adjusts.
Your breasts will experience many fast and frequent size variations in the first weeks after birth, regardless of whether or not you decide to breastfeed.
Remember, some stretch marks might appear on your tummy right after pregnancy.
Your skin has been considerably stretched by weight gain, baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid. After birth, it will quickly readapt to your new body size, making it easier for marks to appear.
#5: How long does it take for stretch marks to fade?
Stretch marks never really go away or disappear altogether. Over time, you will notice they fade from deep red-purple streaks to a silvery or white color. They can also become smoother in appearance.
If you develop stretch marks when you’re pregnant, they will probably be hard to see by 6-12 months after birth.
#6: Pregnancy stretch marks removal
You might have no problems with the stretch marks you gained during pregnancy.
On the other hand, you might want to lessen their visibility.
If so, there are several treatment options for you:
- Self-tanning lotion. Although a natural tan will make stretch marks more obvious, a self-tanner will actually paint over them, making them less noticeable. Patch test first, to see how it looks.
- Retin-A-based treatment. Retinol helps to slowly and steadily rebuild the collagen in your skin. Be careful not to use creams with a type of retinol called tretinoin during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as it is harmful to your baby.
- Laser therapy. Although it won’t make stretch marks disappear, laser therapy is another option, to help make them less noticeable. The success of the treatment depends on how visible and how old the marks are.
#7: Is it bad to scratch stretch marks while pregnant?
As skin stretches it can become quite itchy.
Try to avoid the urge to scratch and use a lotion or light oil instead. Your skin is already quite fragile and you could easily cause tears that lead to infections.
Make sure you read Early Pregnancy Itching – 9 Types And Their Causes for other causes of itchy skin in pregnancy.
How can I treat stretch marks during pregnancy?
You can’t do much to stop your belly from stretching as your baby grows, and you certainly can’t change the genes you inherited from your mother.
You can, however, support your skin in a number of ways:
#1: Stay hydrated
Water keeps our cells healthy whether they are proteins, hormones or enzymes. Staying hydrated will definitely contribute to your skin’s health. Make sure you drink plenty of water during pregnancy.
#2: Eat healthy
A healthy diet rich in vitamin C, A and D, and zinc is essential to keep your skin healthy and elastic
Foods high in these nutrients include:
- Walnuts and sunflower seeds
- Sweet potatoes
- Fatty fish, such as salmon
- Red or yellow bell peppers.
What Foods Can You Eat During Pregnancy? has more ideas for healthy food choices.
#3: Exercise frequently
Exercise is good for people in general and for pregnant women in particular.
Keeping a good muscle tone will also prevent the breakage of collagen fibers in your skin. It also improves blood circulation, which improves your skin’s overall health.
Do you need more reasons?
Exercise During Pregnancy Could Shorten Your Labor might convince you to include more activity in your day.
#4: Hydrate your skin
Hydrating your skin isn’t just about drinking plenty of water. You can also help hydrate it from the outside.
Applying body lotion regularly and frequently not only helps prevent skin dryness, but also helps improve its elasticity.
Natural creams and oils like coconut oil or cocoa butter will always be your best options.
If you choose a commercial lotion, make sure it doesn’t contain petrochemicals and it’s suitable to use during pregnancy.
You can always ask your health care provider or pharmacist if you aren’t sure.
#5: Massage the areas prone to pregnancy stretch marks
As you’re applying stretch mark cream or butter to your body, make sure you massage your breasts, belly, hips, and thighs.
Massage can improve your blood circulation and stimulate cells called fibroblasts. These cells help to produce collagen and elastin, the proteins that keep your skin elastic.
#6: Avoid sun exposure
A little bit of sunshine on your bare skin is very good for getting vitamin D, which is necessary for healthy immune function and bone health.
Research has suggested low levels of vitamin D could increase the chance of stretch marks.
On the other hand, too much sunlight can make stretch marks worse by damaging the collagen in your skin.
It’s best to keep the areas prone to stretch marks under wraps if you’re planning to sit in the sun.
#7: See a dermatologist
Dermatologists are skin specialists and can give you more information about your skin.
They can help you find out what would be the most appropriate products that may help you prevent or treat stretch marks.