As you may have experienced firsthand (perhaps even a few times), getting pregnant triggers a lot of weird stuff to happen to your body. But while you’re probably prepared for symptoms like nausea, tiredness, weight gain and the unavoidable, super adorable baby bump, you may not have anticipated stretch marks.
Pregnancy stretch marks can creep up on you totally unannounced. For me, it was a shock to one day spy strange, purplish streaks on my butt when I caught a glimpse in the mirror. Um, what the f*ck is going on here?! They came out of nowhere and were quite frankly unwelcome.
Many women choose to embrace these special marks as a reminder of how amazing our bodies are for carrying babies. Those women definitely have a great point. But you might not feel the same way, and that’s okay.
Here’s what you need to know about why stretch marks appear in pregnancy and what you can do about it.
So, what are stretch marks?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, stretch marks are ‘a type of scar that develops when our skin stretches or shrinks rapidly’. The fancy medical term is ‘striae distensae’. Depending on your skin’s color, they may appear purple, brown, red or pinkish in appearance. Early stretch marks can also be slightly raised and might be itchy, or you may not feel them at all.
Pregnant women experience stretch marks most commonly on the stomach, hips, thighs, boobs and butt (can confirm).
What causes stretch marks?
They generally appear during periods of rapid change to the body, such as:
- Growth during puberty.
- Rapid weight gain or loss.
- Rapid muscle growth from weight training.
When your body is changing shape or size quickly, the collagen and elastin in the skin can rupture. And in the same way that a scar develops when a wound is healing, stretch marks appear as your skin recovers from this trauma.
Not all pregnant women get stretch marks, but most do (eight out of ten!). Whether you will or not depends on your skin’s elasticity, which is largely a genetic factor.
Can you prevent stretch marks?
Er, not really. While a healthy diet, staying hydrated, keeping physically active and moisturizing your skin may help minimize stretch marks, you can’t really avoid the crazy changes that occur to your body during pregnancy. You may, however, be able to reduce their appearance – more on that in a bit.
Are stretch marks genetic?
Yes, they can be. If your mom or other family members have experienced stretch marks, it’s a good sign that you probably will too. Or who knows? You could get lucky.
Do stretch marks hurt?
A lot of the time they can’t be felt at all. However, you could experience a sharp, pinching pain due to the skin being stretched. It’s also normal to get dry, itchy skin along with stretch marks, particularly on an expanding mama belly.
Why do you get stretch marks during pregnancy?
When you’re growing a baby, your body is changing at the speed of light. (Don’t quote us on that. Light is very speedy actually.)
While your rapidly expanding baby bump (and boobs, and thighs and butt) are a key cause of stretch marks in pregnancy, hormones like cortisol and estrogen are also at play here. They reduce the activity and effectiveness of fibroblasts in your skin, making it more susceptible to tearing.
We know what you’re thinking: When are your fibroblasts going to let you down? (It’s on every pregnant woman’s mind.)
When do stretch marks appear in pregnancy?
You’ll probably notice them start to form in the second or third trimester. Keep an eye on that cheeky butt of yours – not that you need to do anything if stretch marks do appear.
How to prevent pregnancy stretch marks
I’m sorry to say that there’s no guaranteed way to get rid of stretch marks.
It may be most useful to learn to love them during this period of your baby’s development. They’re really just a sign of a healthy pregnancy and miraculous things going on inside you.
But if you’re really not on board, there may be some things you can try to help minimize the appearance of stretch marks. Or clear them up once your pregnancy is over.
Boost your skin health
- Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated.
- Use sun protection daily to protect your skin from sun damage.
Stay healthy overall
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which will also benefit your growing baby and your pregnant body.
- Take prenatal vitamins to give your body an extra boost of nutrients and ensure it’s getting what it needs. (Note: always discuss with your doctor before starting any new supplements).
If you’re really uncomfortable with your stretch marks you could try to cover them with some makeup. If you’re thinking a spot of tanning (or self tanning lotion) might help – AVOID at all cost! This can make stretch marks more noticeable.
Massage and moisturize
Applying creams or lotions to your stretch marks can help with some of those pesky side effects like stretching and dry skin. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests:
- Taking time to massage the product gently into the skin to make it more effective.
- Using lotion for stretch marks early on, as they’re less likely to affect mature marks.
- Trying a product for a few weeks before writing it off – it may take some time to see results.
What to use for stretch marks: Lotions and creams
Home remedies to treat stretch marks, such as applying olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil, or cocoa butter may moisturize the skin and reduce itchiness, but aren’t proven to impact the appearance of stretch marks.
There are, however, certain stretch mark oils and creams that may make a difference. Here are a few that top the list:
Contains argan oil and shea butter for maximum moisturizing benefits, smells yummy, and is nice and budget-friendly.
Designed specifically for expecting mamas, it contains natural ingredients and is fragrance-free.
Good for use as a body butter before, during, and after pregnancy, it boosts skin elasticity with organic herbs and essential oils that smell divine.
A great choice for a mama who’d love an organic belly butter option. Plus, it’s fragrance-free – a plus for women who are sensitive to smells.
Scientifically formulated with all the moisturizing goodies your skin wants, with plant extracts and vitamins to help smooth the appearance of the skin.
A beautiful, moisturizing cream containing natural ingredients designed to smooth out pregnant belly stretch marks and manage stretch marks on hips, boobs, thighs, and more.
This dermatologist-recommended cream contains hyaluronic acid and botanical ingredients to minimize the appearance of stretch marks.
Do stretch marks go away?
They might. Many women find that stretch marks fade slowly after pregnancy. However, like any sort of scar, they may stay there faintly forever. If you’re patient and wait it out they might disappear, but if you’re distressed by the appearance of your stretch marks, you can always pay a visit to a dermatologist.
Search for board certified dermatologists in your area, and enquire about treatments they can do to reduce the severity of stretch marks. These may include things like:
- Chemical peels
- Laser therapies
But note that a lot of these clinical treatments aren’t recommended during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Stretch marks can be annoying and could give your self esteem a hit, but know this: your pregnant and/or postpartum body is SEXY AS HELL! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, you beautiful thang.