Stretch marks, the lines that develop on the abdomen, as well as on other areas of the body, are a common skin concern in pregnancy. While they pose no risk at all to mother or baby, the discomfort created if they lead to itching, not to mention the cosmetic effects of their appearance, can cause pregnant women much distress.
What causes pregnancy stretch marks?
Interestingly, the cause of pregnancy stretch marks (or striae gravidarum) comes down to two factors, one of which is unique to pregnancy. Firstly, there is the physical stretch of the skin that occurs in pregnancy (and in other periods of rapid weight gain such as adolescence).
While the skin adapts to continuous movement by expanding and contracting, during these periods the skin has insufficient time to adjust. As the body expands faster than the skin covering it, the skin tears. The resulting scar that forms from this tear is what we know as a stretch mark.
The second factor, which is still a subject of debate among experts, involves the priming of the skin by increased levels of hormones in pregnancy. Together, these hormones attract more water into the skin, which relaxes the bonds between collagen fibers. This makes it easier for the skin to tear when it is stretched and for stretch marks to form.
When and where do they form?
While stretch marks generally become visible during the later trimesters of pregnancy (around the sixth or seventh month), some women will start to see them forming as soon as their bellies start growing. Most lighter-skinned women tend to develop pinkish stretch marks, whereas darker-skinned women tend to have stretch marks that are lighter than the surrounding skin. Their pattern of development follows three stages.
Stages of stretch marks during pregnancy
Stage 1: Early stretch marks will appear pink in color, and may also be itchy. The skin immediately around the stretch marks may also look ‘flattened’ and ‘thin’.
Stage 2: Gradually, the stretch marks will enlarge in length and width and become a reddish or purple color.
Stage 3: Once the stretch marks have matured, they lose their reddish/pink hue. In the months after pregnancy, they will start to fade and become pale white or silver. They may also appear slightly depressed and irregular in shape or length.
Most women develop stretch marks on their abdomen during pregnancy, however, it is also common to get them on the breasts, thighs, hips, lower back, and buttocks. While they can appear anywhere on the body, they are most likely to appear in places where large amounts of fat are stored.
While it’s important to know why, how and where stretch marks form in pregnancy, even more, important is to know how to help prevent them from forming in the first place. A topically-applied product like Bio-Oil is specially formulated to maximize the skin’s elasticity and ensure that it is supple and well-hydrated. By applying it twice daily right from the first trimester, your body will be better able to withstand the “big stretch” of pregnancy!
How can I prevent stretch marks?
One’s best defense against stretch marks is to ensure that the skin maintains its maximum elasticity throughout pregnancy. This is achieved by keeping skin well-hydrated and supple at all times.
Here’s what can be done to prevent stretch marks:
Collagen and elastin fibers in the skin are necessary to keep rapidly growing skin taut, and the stronger they are, the less likely they are to break and leave resulting stretch marks. It, therefore, makes sense to eat foods that are rich in Vitamin E and C, zinc and silica, which help to form collagen. Vitamin C, in particular, is an important antioxidant that helps protect tissue from damage. Vitamins B2 (Riboflavin) and B3 (Niacin) are also said to help promote and maintain healthy skin.
Drinking sufficient water (approximately 2 liters a day) is essential in order to help strengthen and renew your skin.
In addition to boosting energy levels, reducing mood swings, improving sleep patterns and enhancing one’s overall self-image, exercise too can help prevent stretch marks. Exercise improves circulation, which keeps the skin elastic and more able to stretch as it grows. This improved circulation also reduces the possibility of varicose veins and swollen ankles in pregnancy.
Keeping skin supple
In addition to ensuring that you keep your skin supple through eating the right foods and getting enough exercise, you should use a topically-applied product like Bio-Oil that is specifically formulated to maximize the skin’s elasticity. By applying Bio-Oil twice daily from the first trimester throughout pregnancy, your skin will remain well-hydrated and better able to stretch.
Want to Know More?
- Pregnancy Nutrition
- Fairhaven Health FH PRO For Women & Men
- Nordic Naturals: the Official Omega 3 of the American Pregnancy Association