Stretch Marks During Pregnancy : Causes, Prevention & Treatment

stretch marks during pregnancy

Are you concerned about developing stretch marks during pregnancy? Are you wondering if there is anything you can do to prevent them from developing in the first place?

Like the majority of mothers, I had all of these worries during my pregnancy and unfortunately, due to my pessimism, I didn’t start researching what I could do about them until the later stages of my pregnancy.

By that point, I had already developed stretch marks all over my abdomen. Would I have been able to decrease their severity? Who knows, but I wish I would have at least made an attempt.

With that said, if you want to take a more proactive approach, here is what you need to know.

What Exactly Are Stretch Marks?

Technically referred to as striae, stretch marks are relatively common during pregnancy and are thought to affect up to as many as 90% of pregnant women (1).

Essentially, stretch marks are scar tissue that forms as a result of the middle layer of the skin called the dermis reaching it’s elastic limit and tearing.

What do Stretch Marks Look Like? 

Typically stretch marks first appear as red (striae rubrae), depressed streaks in the skin that gradually fade to purple/blue (striae caerulea)  and eventually become depressed white (striae albae) streaks.

Do Stretch Marks Hurt? 

Stria can sometimes be accompanied with other symptoms such as a burning sensation and itching and of course cause many women considerable emotional anguish.

When do Stretch Marks appear?

For some women, stretch marks start in pregnancy relatively early and since it’s correlated with rapid weight gain, it will typically occur during periods of significant weight gain.

However, it’s worth noting that some studies indicate that for most women stretch marks usually begin to appear in the second and third trimester (2).

Which Areas are most Affected? 

Stretch marks can appear anywhere where stretching of the skin occurs, so most likely those areas of most significant weight gain. Common areas affected include the thighs, hips, breasts, and abdomen.

Typically, the abdomen is most affected since the developing baby and expanding uterus create significantly skin stretching in this area. This also why mothers who are carrying a baby with a higher birth weight are at increased risk.

What Causes Stretch Marks?

The exact cause of stretch marks during pregnancy remains uncertain, but it is thought to relate to the combination of the rapid stretching of the skin as a result of both weight gain and the expansion of the uterus, as well as hormonal changes (3).

skin layers

The skin is composed of three major layers:

  • The surface layer called the epidermis
  • The middle layer called the dermis
  • And the deepest layer named the hypodermis

Striae distensae or stretch marks result from the rapid stretching of the middle layer of the skin or dermis. Since the body has no time to adapt to this rapid stretching, it often results in tearing of the connective tissues and scarring.

Pregnancy related hormonal changes are also thought to contribute, with some studies highlighting a potential result of these changes being an increased propensity for tearing of the connective tissue fibers (4).

Are Stretch Marks Permanent?

Although pregnancy stretch marks (Striae gravidarum) will fade over time and even though some form of improvement is typical, the unfortunate reality is that stretch marks are permanent scars.

Stretch marks usually first appear as vivid red bands (stria rubra) that eventually fade to a purple hue and eventually fade to become white, glistening marks (striae alba).

Stretch Marks Risk Factors

Although there is currently no way to predict whether or not you will develop stretch marks during pregnancy, a variety of risk factors have been identified.

Family History of Stretch Marks

If other females in your family that is genetically related to you have experienced stretch marks during pregnancy, you may be at a higher risk of developing them yourself.

By now, you are probably aware of your mothers and grandmothers pregnancy experiences, but if not it might be worth asking them. This is by no means a guarantee that you are destined to develop them yourself, but often it is assumed to be a strong indication.

History of Stretch Marks During Puberty

If you have experienced stretch marks prior to becoming pregnant, you may be at an increased risk of developing them during pregnancy.

This may be particularly important if you developed them during puberty when rapid weight gain and hormonal changes might have occurred. Since pregnancy also involves similar changes, this might provide you with an indication of what to expect.

Pre-Pregnancy Weight 

Another potential risk factor for developing stretch marks during pregnancy is your pre-pregnancy weight. If you have a high pre-pregnancy Body Mass Index (BMI) you are at increased risk of developing them during pregnancy.

This may not be what you want to hear if you are already pregnant, but for those that are not, it’s certainly something worth being aware of. That way, you can try to get back to what is considered a healthy BMI before planning to conceive (5).

Pre-Pregnancy Stretch Marks Affecting the Breasts 

Although you may have assumed that any history of developing stretch marks prior to pregnancy may make you more susceptible to developing them during pregnancy, it turns out that this may not be true.

In fact, several studies have determined that it depends where the stretch marks developed. While a history of stretch marks on the breasts appears to increase the risk, a history of stretch marks on the thigs appears to decrease the risk.

Being Pregnant at an Early Age 

There are many great benefits to being a young mom, yet, compared to more mature mothers, you are at an increased risk of developing striae.

The reason for this is due to way to skin matures. As skin ages, a protein named fibrillin becomes less fragile and as this protein is involved in the production of connective tissue fibers it plays an important role in maintaining the skin’s elasticity.

How to Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy

With so many stretch mark products available today, it’s no wonder that so many women are confused about what actually works if anything.

The reality is that stretch marks that are already developed or in the process of developing cannot be permanently erased. However, there are a variety of steps you can take to reduce their development with varying success.

Use a Stretch Mark Cream containing Centella Asiatica

There are so many creams available on the market that it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice, but the best cream to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy in my view are the ones containing active ingredients with some scientific data to back them up.

One such ingredient is called Centella asiatica extract, which is thought to work by increasing collagen production in the skin. A variety of studies have demonstrated that creams containing this ingredient helped to reduce the severity of stretch marks (6).

Regularly Massage Your Skin

Many women vouch for the benefits of using natural ingredients to improve the appearance and help to reduce the severity of stretch marks. This includes almond oil and Shea butter, yet there is limited data to support their effectiveness.

However, a few studies have demonstrated that when these ingredients were massaged onto the skin; stretch mark development was decreased, indicating that a massage may be a helpful preventative measure, rather than the actual ingredients (7).

Feed Your Skin

Certain vitamins and minerals have been well established to greatly benefit the skin in a variety of ways. Therefore, it makes sense to ensure you are getting the recommended intake during pregnancy.

Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is an antioxidant that plays a crucial role in protecting the skin from environmental damage. It also plays a major role in the production of new collagen, which is a major component of the skin and involved in the healing process.

Stay Hydrated 

Ensuring you drink an adequate amount of water each day during your pregnancy is important since your requirements have now changed. This will also ensure your skin is getting adequate hydration, which is a fundamental part of maintaining supple skin.

Pregnant women are advised to drink around 10 cups or 2.3 liters of fluid daily. If like me, you find plain water a little boring, you can easily use an infuser to improve the taste and add a little variety throughout the day.

Treatments for Stretch Marks

If you are wondering how to remove pregnancy stretchmarks, unfortunately for many, stretch marks resulting from pregnancy is inevitable. Often, the only option left is to seek some form of treatment to improve their appearance.

It’s worth noting that it’s often recommended that you seek treatment sooner rather than later, as it’s considered more difficult to treat mature stretch marks.

Thankfully, there are quite a lot of options to pursue in terms of medical grade treatments.

Topical Medications such as Retinoids 

One of the most effective topical treatments for stretch marks is retinoids. These are a class of vitamin A derivatives that are applied to areas of concern under the guidance and consultation of a registered dermatologist.

Studies indicate that this treatment is effective in improving the appearance of stretch marks, which is thought to be a result of its ability to increase elastin content and the thickness of the epidermis (8).

It’s important to be aware that although retinoids can be helpful, they are a prescription strength drug that is not suitable for use by those currently planning for a baby, pregnant or breastfeeding.

Laser Treatments 

Another, more invasive option is laser treatments that help to resurface the skin and stimulate the production of both collagen and elastic fibers. These treatments often involve more downtime and can be uncomfortable, yet many studies report impressive results.

There are many types of laser including the fractional and non-fractional variety. In order to find the best option for you, it is advised to consult a board-certified dermatologist.

Over a series of sessions, these laser treatments can help to reduce the appearance of stretch marks considerably, with one study showing an incredible 75% improvement in stretch mark scars after repeated sessions with a nonablative laser (9).

Light Treatments 

A variety of light treatments are also available, which are routinely used to treat stretch marks. These include UV light, intense pulsed light, and infrared light.

Of the three, the infrared light seems most positive, with one study demonstrating infrared light helped improve the appearance of stretch marks as much as 50% (10).

Final Words 

Although there’s no way to completely erase stretch marks from your skin, the good news is that there are a lot of measures you can take to try and improve their appearance.

However, for best results, bear in mind that the professional advice is to treat them as soon as you can rather than waiting for them to mature.

I wish I knew a lot more about stretch mark prevention when I was pregnant, which is why I was inspired to write this article in the first place.

What stretch mark treatments worked for you during your pregnancy? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Oh and don’t forget to share this information with any mother-to-be it might help.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436005/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440454/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1913631/
  4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2006.07427.x
  5. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ics.12188
  6. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ics.12029
  7. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04087.x
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5057295/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25633176
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18214584

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