Some moms-to-be wear them proudly as a "red badge of motherhood." Others don’t want to talk about them. They're pregnancy stretch marks, and though your baby's not even born yet, she's already leaving her mark on you!
What trimester do pregnant women develop stretch marks?
You’ll most likely start to notice stretch marks on your stomach (and elsewhere) around the end of the second trimester into the beginning of the third trimester, when you’re between 6 and 7 months pregnant. That said, they do sometimes appear sooner.
Up to 90 percent of all expecting women get these pink, red, brown or sometimes purplish streaks. You'll most likely notice them across your belly, butt, thighs, hips or breasts.
What causes stretch marks during pregnancy?
Stretch marks are actually tiny tears in the supporting layers of tissue under your skin as it's pulled tight during pregnancy.
Whether or not you get stretch marks has a lot to do with the elasticity of your skin. You can mostly thank genetics: If your mother had stretch marks, chances are greater that you probably will too. Lifestyle habits, including eating well and exercising regularly, also promote skin health and elasticity.
One last important factor affecting the likelihood of stretch marks is how much weight you gain during pregnancy and how quickly. Rapid weight gain makes you more prone to this badge of pregnancy. The faster your skin stretches, the more likely it is to leave a mark.
What can I do about stretch marks when I'm pregnant?
Though stretch marks are usually genetic, there are a few ways to try to prevent stretch marks and lighten or minimize their appearance during pregnancy:
Moisturize and massage
Massaging a stretch mark oil or cream on your belly, hips and thighs certainly won't hurt. Some research suggests that formulations with the herb centella or hyaluronic acid (which is already present in the skin) may help prevent stretch marks, but the evidence is far from definitive.
No high-quality research proves that cocoa butter, olive oil, almond oil, vitamin E or coconut oil are effective at preventing stretch marks. But some studies have shown that these and other anti-inflammatory and antioxidant plant oils keep skin hydrated and promote wound healing and skin barrier repair.
If nothing else, moisturizing daily will help with the dry, itchy skin associated with pregnancy.
Be sure to use moisturizer early on in your pregnancy, and massage it in gently to maximize effectiveness. Some researchers think it’s the massaging action and not the actual ingredients that may make stretch mark creams effective.
Keep using the cream or gel of your choice throughout your pregnancy, since any benefits from these products will likely take weeks to have an effect.
Nourish your skin from the inside
Keep taking your prenatal vitamin, which helps ensure you’re getting enough of a variety of nutrients that support both your baby’s development and your skin health.
Eating plenty of vitamin C-rich foods like peppers, citrus and strawberries may also make your skin less subject to stretch marks. Vitamin C promotes collagen and tissue production, which helps keep skin strong and elastic.
While it’s far from proven to work, getting enough vitamin D in your diet may also help with stretch marks, and it certainly can’t hurt. Load up on fatty fish, fortified dairy or dairy substitutes, and eggs, all of which are chock full of vitamin D, plus other pregnancy-friendly vitamins and nutrients (like omega-3 fatty acids and choline).
Keep your weight gain slow and steady
Since rapid weight gain is one of the culprits behind stretch marks, slowly and steadily putting on pounds during pregnancy is one of the most effective ways to help prevent them.
It can be easy to overdo it if you’re eating for two. As much as possible, try to follow the general recommendations for caloric intake during pregnancy, which also helps guarantee an overall healthier pregnancy for you and your baby.
If stretch marks really bother you, try applying a slightly darker-toned makeup to the area to reduce their appearance. (While self-tanner can have a similar effect, save it until after pregnancy to be safe.) Of course, this is just a temporary fix — it won’t actually help prevent or treat stretch marks.
Wait it out
Given enough time, stretch marks gradually lighten and fade on their own. But if you’re still concerned once you deliver your baby, talk to your dermatologist about other treatments. While none of these options can eliminate stretch marks, they can make them less noticeable:
- Prescription retinol or tretinoin creams. These types of retinoids have been shown to treat stretch marks effectively by helping to rebuild the collagen in skin. Ask your doctor whether it’s safe to use them when breastfeeding.
- Laser therapy
- Chemical peels
Of course you wanted a solution yesterday, but hold off on these methods while you’re still expecting. None of them are considered safe during pregnancy. Plus, your skin will continue to change throughout these nine months.
Can I prevent stretch marks?
Unfortunately, there’s no proven way to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. Try to think of them as modern art for your baby bump, and save your hard-earned cash for a post-delivery treat instead of spending a ton of money on unproven therapies.
When can I expect my stretch marks to go away?
Any stretch marks that crop up while you’re expecting will likely be around for a bit, and they might even look a little more noticeable post-delivery. Fortunately, they won't stay so vividly hued forever.
Pregnancy stretch marks usually lighten to a less noticeable (and more easily concealable) silvery gray or pale glistening color within about six months of birth. Meanwhile, try to wear them with pride.