Nothing is a greater testament to the wonder of womanhood than women’s ability to grow a life inside their womb. Needless to say, pregnant women are to be celebrated and cherished, just as much the pregnancy itself, for the huge feat that their body has accomplished.
While most women revel in the glow of impending motherhood, the drastic physical transformation that comes with it can sometimes overwhelm them and cast a shadow on their self-confidence. Just the thought of having a web of stretch marks encompassing your belly for the rest of your life can work up the neurosis of even the most strong-willed women.
While it’s natural to be self-conscious about your appearance as your body undergoes a metamorphosis of sorts to support your growing baby, don’t let such petty concerns kill your happy vibe. After all, healthy, happy mothers give birth to healthy, happy babies.
As distressing as the first appearance of a stretch mark might seem to you, the fact that you’re not alone in this struggle can help to take the edge off. About 40 to 90 percent of pregnant women develop stretch marks during pregnancy, especially in the second or third trimester. These are the by-product of hormonal changes and the rapid weight gain associated with a normal pregnancy.
As the body grows, the skin stretches to adapt to these changes. During pregnancy the body expands much faster than usual, and the overlying skin tends to become overstretched and tear. This results due to the collagen and elastin in the skin, which are responsible for its repair, are rendered insufficient to keep up with these drastic physical changes taking place in a short period of time.
Plus, pregnancy hormones like estrogen and cortisol also inhibit and hamper the fibroblasts in the skin, which further reduce skin collagen and elastin.
These stretch marks usually take shape in the middle layers of the skin and appear as bands of parallel lines, which are in a distinctly different color and texture than your normal skin. They become less conspicuous over time, starting out purple in color, gradually fading to bright pink, and eventually turning light gray.
Apart from the abdominal skin, the most common areas affected are the hips, thighs, buttocks, and breast areas. Although stretch marks pose absolutely no threat to the well-being of the mother or the fetus, they have been associated with mild discomfort like itchiness in the affected areas in some women.
Despite the commonly held belief that stretch marks are a part and parcel of pregnancy and there is no escaping them, there are a few tips you can follow that can be helpful in reducing their severity and overall appearance.
Here are some safe and natural ways to prevent pregnancy stretch marks.
1. Moisturize Your Skin
Massaging the susceptible areas of the body like the abdomen, thighs, and breasts with effective emollients regularly can help mitigate or avert the appearance of pregnancy-related stretch marks. This moisturizing regimen will bear maximum results if you start it early, that is, as soon as you notice the first stretch mark, or in stretch-mark prone areas.
While researchers have had difficulty establishing their effectiveness, many believe using topical agents like oils and creams on your abdomen or any other areas where you notice stretch marks developing can prove beneficial. These hydrating balms help boost the skin’s elasticity, thereby allowing to adapt to the growing size of the body without tearing or forming stretch marks.
Centella and bitter almond oil may prevent the appearance of stretch marks, along with topical hyaluronic acid.
Coconut oil, cocoa butter, almond oil, shea butter, and wheat germ oil are popular choices to keep your skin moisturized during pregnancy. Some say their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties support the regeneration of new tissues and healthy skin cells as well as combat free radical-induced skin damage. Another natural option is aloe vera gel, which is an effective healing agent that helps restore the skin damage.
However, when you choose to moisturize your skin, it is recommended to do this twice a day, especially after bathing. Pay special attention to areas that feel itchy or bothersome.
Rub the oil or moisturizer of your choice on the affected area, and then massage gently using circular motions to stimulate blood circulation and allow the moisturizer to penetrate deep into the skin.
2. Watch Your Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding excessive and rapid weight gain in pregnancy are other ways to battle these unwanted marks. The average weight gain of a full-term pregnancy is about 22–28 pounds. Anything beyond this significantly increases the mechanical stretching of the skin, making stretch marks more prominent.
The notion that you have to “eat for two” when pregnant doesn’t imply that you have to double up your calorie intake. In fact, it only takes 340 extra calories a day in the second trimester (second 3 months) and 450 extra calories daily in the third trimester (last 3 months) to supply the baby with the adequate nourishment required for fetal development.
Also, the nutritional value of the food you are consuming when pregnant makes a world of difference in both maintaining a healthy pregnancy and supporting your growing baby.
An ideal gestational diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy products, nuts and whole grains and cereals. Moreover, refraining from high fat and sugary foods is always a plus for effective weight management. The goal is to gain weight slowly and steadily, rather than balloon out of proportion in a short span by eating more than required.
Follow a healthy diet and exercise regimen as directed by your doctor or midwife to help manage your weight.
It is also not recommended to intentionally lose weight too rapidly after delivery, especially if you are breastfeeding. A gradual weight loss with a healthy diet and exercise program will support your skin’s elasticity, helping it to be the healthiest possible.
Studies have shown that regular exercise helps the skin retain its elasticity by improving your blood circulation. It can also have a positive effect on how quickly and how much weight you gain during the pregnancy. On top of the importance exercise has on your health and that of your unborn child, all of these factors contribute to reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
Consult your doctor about incorporating light exercises, yoga, or customized workouts for pregnant women into your routine. If you have a high-risk pregnancy or complications, it is critical that you talk to your healthcare provider first about what type of exercise would be appropriate for your condition.
4. Stay Hydrated
Whether or not you are pregnant, drinking an ample amount of water throughout the day is important for healthy skin. Water helps detoxify your body, maintaining a healthy pH balance and improving overall skin appearance.
Since dry skin is more prone to developing stretch marks, it is all the more imperative to keep yourself and thereby your skin well hydrated. Besides, it also contributes to maintaining skin elasticity, which is another safeguard against your skin pulling apart due to speedy weight gain.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommendation for a pregnant woman’s daily water intake is about 300 ml more than when not pregnant. This translates to about 10 to 12 (8 oz) glasses of water per day.
Many find it helpful during pregnancy to sip water throughout the day, instead of filling their stomach with copious amounts at a time. This is particularly true for women who suffer from morning sickness and are unable to keep the fluid down.
A well-hydrated body is also less prone to UTIs, headaches, and constipation, which are some of the common nuisances that come with pregnancy. Also, since pregnant women are required to swear off coffee and tea, water can make up for the loss of fluid intake.
It may be wise to diversify your water intake by including fruits and vegetables with high water content in your diet. For example, eat a salad with cucumbers, bell peppers, and celery. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important addition to your diet, especially when supporting the growth of your baby. Alternatively, soups, milk, and herbal teas add to the basket of choices as well.
5. Avoid Caffeine
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by almost 50%.(9) This increased demand on your body is best supported with adequate water intake and avoiding dehydration.
Caffeine works as a diuretic agent when taken in amounts greater than 400 mg per day, thereby depleting the body’s water content. It is therefore imperative to limit or completely cease the intake of caffeinated foods and beverages like coffee, tea, and soda.
Opt for noncaffeinated herbal tea and fruit juices instead.
6. Eat a Skin-Nourishing Diet
The food you eat plays an important role in maintaining skin elasticity. Health experts recommend following a diet that nourishes your skin from within.
- Eat foods rich in antioxidants like spinach, blueberries, strawberries, and other vegetables that help nourish and protect the skin.
- Foods containing vitamin E, which protects skin cell membranes, are also important. Vitamin E-rich foods include nuts, seeds, avocados, broccoli, and collard greens.
- Foods containing vitamin A help repair skin tissues. Vitamin A-rich foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos, squash, and red bell peppers.
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, fish oil, walnuts, eggs, and oysters are also good for your skin. When eating fish, make sure it is low in mercury, such as salmon, tuna, shrimp, and cod. Avoid eating undercooked fish or eggs.
7. Do Dry Brushing
Exfoliating your skin using a dry brush technique is another way to mitigate the appearance of stretch marks during pregnancy. Dry brushing can help improve your circulation and can keep your skin looking and feeling healthy.
This technique can also open up the skin’s natural pores, allowing the skin to better absorb any topical moisturizing oils, creams, and lotions. The exfoliating effect of this technique also helps with the regeneration of new skin cells which can keep the skin supple and devoid of stretch marks.
- Before bathing or showering, brush your bare skin with circular strokes toward the heart.
- Do this for about 5 minutes, especially on your thighs, arms, abdomen, and buttocks.
- Do it daily or every other day.
Always use a brush made from natural fibers for dry brushing.
- In some cases, stretch marks are genetic. But with proper care, you can still reduce their appearance.
- Don’t use harsh chemicals on your skin as they deplete the skin’s moisture. Use skin products made with natural oils that will hydrate your skin.
- Apply a stretch mark salve containing glycolic acid on your abdomen, sides or any other mark-ridden area. Follow the directions on the package for appropriate use. While the glycolic acid treatment helps to fade the appearance of existent stretch marks, it does not keep new ones from forming.
- Laser resurfacing and microneedling are other procedures that may also help with stretch marks.
- Use topical products specifically formulated to maximize the skin’s elasticity. Ask your healthcare provider for recommendations.
- Always be sure that any stretch mark products you use while pregnancy or nursing are safe for use. Ask your doctor or midwife whenever in doubt.
- Brennan M, Young G, Devane D. Topical preparations for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Systemic Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23152199. Published November 14, 2012.
- Elsaie ML, Baumann LS, Elsaaiee LT. Striae distensae (stretch marks) and different modalities of therapy: an update. Dermatologic Surgery. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19400881. Published April 2009.
- Osman H, Rubeiz N, Tamim H. Risk factors for the development of striae gravidarum. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1913631/. Published January 2007.
- Korgavkar K, Wang F. Stretch marks during pregnancy: a review of topical prevention. The British Journal of Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25255817. Published March 2015.
- Weight Gain During Pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-weight-gain.htm. Published May 17, 2018.
- Waters J. How exercise can improve your skin’s elasticity. Healthspan. https://www.healthspan.co.uk/advice/how-exercise-can-improve-your-skins-elasticity. Published June 22, 2017.
- Palma L, Marques LT, Bujan J. Dietary water affects human skin hydration and biomechanics. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4529263/. Published August 3, 2015.
- Montgomery KS. Nutrition Column An Update on Water Needs during Pregnancy and Beyond. The Journal of Perinatal Education. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595116/. Published 2002.
- Hytten F. Blood volume changes in normal pregnancy. Clinics in Haematology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4075604. Published October 1985.
- Ruxton CHS. The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance, and hydration: a review of benefits and risks. Nutrition Bulletin. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00665.x. Published February 13, 2008.