Stretch marks are part and parcel of your motherhood journey. While most women embrace them, preventing stretch marks when pregnant is a preferable option for some and is completely normal. Stretch marks are small tears of the elastic supportive tissue beneath the skin that appear purple, reddish-brown, or dark brown streaks, depending on the skin color (1).
Around 90% of women develop stretch marks during pregnancy. They occur due to stretching of the skin on the belly, breasts, hips, and buttocks (2).
Read on to understand the causes, possible treatments, and measures to prevent stretch marks.
What Are The Causes Of Stretch Marks During Pregnancy?
Some possible risk factors responsible for causing stretch marks are (3):
- Physical stretching: The body expands during pregnancy, and as a result, skin starts to stretch. Continuously expanding and stretching will not give the skin enough time to recover and adjust to the changes. Therefore, the skin begins to tear and scar, forming stretch marks.
- Hormones: The increasing pregnancy hormones draw extra water into the skin that helps relax the bonds of collagen fibers. It can make the skin prone to tear when stretched, resulting in stretch marks.
- Heredity: Although not specific to pregnancy, stretch marks may be genetic. If your mother had stretch marks, you are likely to develop them during your pregnancy (4).
Are Stretch Marks Painful Or Dangerous?
Stretch marks do not pose any threat to the baby or the mother. However, they are often accompanied by itching (3) (5). Although common, researchers stated that stretch marks during pregnancy could cause anxiety, self-consciousness, and depression in some women (6). However, timely attention could help manage these emotional concerns.
In Which Trimester Do You Develop Stretch Marks?
Pregnant women are most likely to develop stretch marks towards the second and third trimesters. Although stretch marks begin as soon as the belly starts to expand, they become distinct by the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy (2) (3).
How To Prevent Stretch Marks When Pregnant?
You may follow the below tips for preventing stretch marks when pregnant:
- Control your weight. Try to maintain a healthy weight of around 25 to 35 pounds with a balanced diet. A steady and healthy weight gain can help reduce the occurrence or intensity of stretch marks (5) (7).
- Stay hydrated. Drinking at least two liters of water per day and staying hydrated can help rejuvenate and strengthen the skin (3).
- Have a nutrient-rich diet. Our skin contains collagen and elastin fibers, which help tighten the skin when stretched (skin taut). A strong skin taut is less likely to tear and scar. Include a diet rich in zinc, vitamin C and E, and silica, as these nutrients help form collagen and repair tissue damage. In addition, vitamins B2 and B3 are important for healthy skin (3).
- Include exercise. Regular exercising can increase circulation and enhance skin elasticity, stretching easily without tearing (3).
- Protect the skin. Besides hydration and exercise, you can also keep your skin supple by regular moisturization. You may apply bio-oil twice every day from the first trimester to keep the skin hydrated and well-stretchable (3).
- Pregnancy stretch marks may occur with the stretching skin and increasing pregnancy hormones.
- Stretch marks are evident in the later stages of pregnancy, while some may find them earlier with expanding belly.
- Eating the right foods, getting enough exercise, and skin care can help prevent stretch marks.
- Vitamin E oils, olive oil, bio-oil, etc., help reduce or fade off the stretch marks.
What Are The Possible Treatments For Stretch Marks During Pregnancy?
Although there is no proven cure for stretch marks, some treatments can lighten and reduce their intensity considerably. These include:
- Topical medication: Prescribed medications containing hyaluronic acid, trofolastin, and tretinoin might work for stretch marks. Topical application has shown significant improvement in discoloration of the stretch marks, making them faint in appearance (2). Massaging the skin with the above creams for around six months could work (8).
- Lotions and oils: Creams or oils containing vitamin E can treat pregnancy stretch marks. Moisturizing the skin with cocoa butter, bio-oil, and olive oil eventually fades the marks or reduces their occurrence (2).
- Medical procedure: Post-pregnancy treatments such as laser therapy, microneedling, radiofrequency, and energy-based devices may be recommended by your healthcare provider. Laser therapy and microneedling enhance collagen production and reduce the blood flow to the stretch mark lesions (2) (9).
- Early treatment: Most doctors recommend treating the stretch marks when they appear. You can consult with your healthcare provider about the possible treatment options (7).
When Do Stretch Marks Go Away?
Stretch marks may not completely disappear but become unnoticeable with time. Post-pregnancy, they turn pale white or silver and irregular in shape (3).
It is common to notice changes in the body during pregnancy. Some noticeable changes, such as stretch marks, are gentle reminders of your pregnancy journey and are common among pregnant women. However, they are not serious and disappear with time. Meanwhile, you can try the above tips and measures to manage the condition.
- What causes stretch marks during pregnancy.
- What your skin should expect when you’re expecting.
- Pregnancy stretch marks.
- Pregnancy: stretch marks, itching and skin changes.
- What can I do about stretch marks?
- Pregnancy stretch marks cause stress and emotional burden, study finds.
- Are pregnancy stretch marks preventable?
- Stretch marks: why they appear and how to get rid of them?
- B. Farahnik et al. (2017). Striae gravidarum: Risk factors, prevention, and management.