Along with weight gain, hyperpigmentation and pregnancy brain, stretch marks are one of the most reviled and dreaded aspects of pregnancy. While the vast majority of women will say that their babies are worth every single stretch mark, they’d much rather be stretch mark free after nine months of pregnancy.
Stretch marks are caused by rapid growth or weight gain, where the skin is stretched to the point of scarring. The connective fibers of the skin stretch, and then break, causing what is essentially a scar. They typically begin as angry, red marks that eventually fade to pink or white. Fortunately, they also decrease in size with weight loss. Stretch marks may also be caused by hormone fluctuations, which is perhaps why pregnant women develop them more often.
Stretch marks are an unfortunate inevitability for half of pregnant women. For the most part, genetics will determine if you are prone to developing them. Some women make it through pregnancy gaining an average to above average amount of weight with nary a stretch mark in sight, while others may gain an average to below average amount of weight and develop numerous marks.
The most common location for pregnant women to develop stretch marks is on the abdomen due to a rapidly expanding belly. Unfortunately, since weight is gained in other parts of the body, stretch marks are not limited only to this area. They may pop up on your breasts, hips, buttocks and thighs. Women who gain more than the recommended amount of 25 to 35 pounds (11.3 to 15.87 kg) (if you start out at a healthy weight) are at risk for developing stretch marks more often. If you are carrying multiples, you may develop more stretch marks on your abdomen as this area will experience dramatic stretching.
There’s not much you can do during your pregnancy to avoid developing stretch marks. Some women swear by using belly creams with cocoa butter, vitamin E and aloe vera, but none have been proven to prevent or treat stretch marks. Some women may be able to only slightly improve their chances of developing them, and may simply not be prone to developing them anyway. It can’t hurt to keep your skin hydrated to avoid the itchiness associated with skin stretched to its limits.
Your stretch marks should fade with time after the pregnancy, though you can consult your dermatologist if you have concerns about them. You may be prescribed creams such as Retin-A or those containing .1% tretinoin. Studies using tretinoin have shown promise in reducing the size and color of stretch marks. Laser treatments and dermabrasion may also help treat stretch marks as well. It is important to note that these treatments are not safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.