Congratulations on your pregnancy! As your baby grows and develops in your womb, your body will undergo various changes.
One such change that occurs is the development of pregnancy stretch marks.
Common locations for pregnancy stretch marks, also known as striae gravidarum, to form are the abdomen, breasts, and thighs. You can also get them on your hips, buttocks, lower back, and upper arms.
In this article, we answer all your questions regarding pregnancy stretch marks, including how you can prevent them while pregnant.
What Causes Stretch Marks in Pregnancy?
Stretch marks occur when the skin stretches too fast, causing tears in the inner layers of the skin. Consequently, pink, red, purple, brown, or black indented streaks appear on your skin.
50% to 90% of women get stretch marks during pregnancy in 43% of them, they start to show up before 24 weeks gestation. The cause of striae in pregnant women involves:
- Physical factors: gestational weight gain causes the skin to stretch.
- Hormonal factors: according to one study, skin with striae has a higher number of this is an article specific to pregnancy stretch marks. Try to find estrogen, androgen, and glucocorticoid receptors compared to healthy skin. The increase in hormonal receptor activity may alter the metabolism of elastic fibers and collagen fibers, causing striae to form.
- Genetic factors: the development and severity of stretch marks vary from patient to patient, suggesting a variable genetic predisposition.
Risk Factors of Pregnancy Stretch Marks
- Personal history of breast or thigh striae
- Family history of striae gravidarum
- Higher body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy
- Higher weight gain during pregnancy
- Younger maternal age
- Higher gestational age at delivery, i.e., how far along a pregnancy is at birth
- Higher birth weight, i.e., the weight of your baby, taken within an hour of birth
When and Where Do Pregnancy Stretch Marks Form
Stretch marks from pregnancy can form in different areas, depending on the individual. But they’re most likely to occur on the belly.
As your baby grows, the skin around the abdomen rapidly stretches to accommodate the growing fetus.
Striae gravidarum can also appear on your breasts, thighs, hips, buttocks, lower back, and upper arms.
As to when they form, this also varies from person to person. But they typically appear in the late second and early third trimester.
However, some women may get them before 24 weeks, while others may not get them at all.
Stages of Stretch Marks During Pregnancy
There are two stages of striae gravidarum:
- Stage 1 (striae rubrae): early pregnancy stretch marks appear like pink, red, purple, blue, black, or brown linear streaks. They may appear flat but can also feel slightly raised. In some people, early stretch marks may also be associated with itching. As the pregnancy progresses, they increase in length and width.
- Stage 2 (striae alba): months after childbirth, stretch marks will fade, becoming hypopigmented linear depressions. So mature stretch marks, which appear white or silver, are less noticeable than newer ones.
Unexpected Places To Find Stretch Marks in Pregnancy
Pregnancy stretch marks typically appear on the abdomen, breasts, and thighs as large amounts of fat are stored here. But they may also occur on your:
Your hips will often become wider during pregnancy due to added weight or the effects of relaxin.
Relaxin is a hormone that loosens the joints and ligaments in your pelvis and softens and widens the cervix in preparation for childbirth.
Relaxin also affects the other joints in the body, including the hip joints.
The joint laxity contributes to the overall widening of the hips during pregnancy. When your hips widen, the skin stretches, and stretch marks may begin to appear.
You may get stretch marks on your lower back due to pregnancy weight gain, especially if more than the recommended weight gain.
Lower back stretch marks appear as horizontal lines higher up or just above the buttocks.
Being pregnant increases your likelihood of getting striae gravidarum. And while they can occur almost anywhere in the body, some people are prone to develop them on their upper arms.
Under Pubic Hair
If you develop pregnancy stretch marks on your abdomen, they may extend to the mons pubis. They can also start in the mons pubis and reach the inner thighs.
Due to their location, they are easy to hide and are typically only visible when you shave your pubic hair.
You can also get striae on your legs while pregnant, mostly on the backside. You may also notice them on your knees—on the front, back, or sides.
How Can I Prevent Stretch Marks in Pregnancy?
While you cannot entirely prevent stretch marks, you can ensure maximum skin elasticity throughout your pregnancy to reduce their occurrence. Here’s how:
Consume a Diet Rich in Vitamins and Minerals
A healthy pregnancy diet is paramount for your baby’s growth and development.
Eating healthy also ensures your skin stays healthy, which can help prevent pregnancy stretch marks.
Consuming high protein foods is key in avoiding striae gravidarum. Protein-rich foods improve skin elasticity by increasing the production of collagen and elastic fibers—as do vitamins C and E, zinc, and silica.
Dry skin is more likely to develop stretch marks. So ensure to drink lots of water every day to keep your skin smooth and hydrated.
The daily recommended water intake during pregnancy is 8 to 13 cups, i.e., 64 to 96 ounces or 1.9 to 2.8 liters, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Gain Weight at a Gradual Pace
The best way to avoid getting striae gravidarum is not to gain weight rapidly. Instead, try gaining weight gradually throughout your pregnancy and not adding more pounds than the recommended amount.
How much weight you should gain during pregnancy will depend on your body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy.
Eating a balanced diet and regular exercise will help you gain weight slowly and steadily.
Keep Your Skin Supple
In addition to eating the right foods and staying hydrated, topical skin care products like Bio-Oil will help keep your skin supple and moist.
Massage Bio-Oil in circular motions on your belly and where else striae may appear throughout your pregnancy.
Doing this will reduce the possibility of stretch marks forming by maintaining your skin’s elasticity.
One study also found that the prophylactic use of olive oil to massage the abdomen was associated with a low occurrence of abdominal striae gravidarum.
Another study concluded that applying bitter almond oil with a massage reduced the development of stretch marks during pregnancy.
As mentioned earlier, regular physical activity helps prevent pregnancy weight gain beyond the recommended amount.
It also improves circulation, which ensures your skin cells have adequate oxygen and nutrients to function as they should. Consequently, your skin will be firm, supple, and better able to stretch.
Improved circulation also lowers your risk of varicose veins and swollen ankles when pregnant.
Treating Stretch Marks in Pregnancy
Stretch marks from pregnancy fade into white or silver striae that are less noticeable after childbirth but they typically don’t disappear completely.
That said, studies show various treatments can help improve their appearance, from topical therapies to procedural therapies.
Unfortunately, the most effectively studied treatments, topical retinoids and laser therapy are not safe to use during pregnancy.
You can wait until after your baby is born to try these therapies to treat any striae gravidarum that may have developed.
And in the meantime, you could try topical treatments commonly employed in stretch mark management but limited by insufficient evidence.
These treatments include over-the-counter topical products and natural remedies, such as coconut oil, almond oil, and aloe vera.
The latter include stretch mark creams, lotions, and oils containing active ingredients like cocoa butter, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid.
These products work by stimulating collagen production, hydrating the skin, and reducing inflammation.
There is no sure way to prevent pregnancy stretch marks, but keeping your skin supple can help reduce the risk of developing them.
Should you get striae gravidarum, talk to your OB-GYN about safe products you can use to treat stretch marks during pregnancy.
After having your baby, you can opt to try tretinoin creams and laser treatments to improve the appearance of striae gravidarum.
- Farahnik, B., Park, K., Kroumpouzos, G., & Murase, J. (2016). Striae gravidarum: Risk factors, prevention, and management. International journal of women's dermatology, 3(2), 77–85. doi.org/10.1016/j.ijwd.2016.11.001
- American Pregnancy Association (n.d). Pregnancy Stretch Marks. americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-concerns/what-are-pregnancy-stretch-marks/
- Pampers.com (May 08, 2020). All About Pregnancy Stretch Marks. pampers.com/en-us/pregnancy/pregnancy-symptoms/article/pregnancy-stretch-marks
- American Family Physician (Jan 15, 2007).Common Skin Conditions During Pregnancy. aafp.org/afp/2007/0115/p211.html.
- ScienceDirect (n.d). Striae Gravidarum. sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/striae-gravidarum
- Rangel, O., Arias, I., García, E., & Lopez-Padilla, S. (2001). Topical tretinoin 0.1% for pregnancy-related abdominal striae: an open-label, multicenter, prospective study. Advances in therapy, 18(4), 181–186. doi.org/10.1007/BF02850112
- MyMed.com (n.d). Ways to get rid of stretch marks. mymed.com/health-wellness/interesting-health-info/how-to-get-rid-of-stretch-marks/ways-to-get-rid-of-stretch-marks