Pregnancy comes with a host of bodily changes, many of which you may or may not be ready to experience. Stretch marks usually top the list of things pregnant people don’t want to experience.
Stretch marks are common, and preventing them isn’t always possible.
Together, we’ll talk about what stretch marks are, what causes them, and what you can do to help prevent them or reduce the amount you get.
What Are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are indentations on the skin that look similar to scars. Also called striae, these marks happen when there is a significant weight change, either through gain or loss.
They don’t cause pain, are not harmful, and don’t require any kind of treatment, although some people choose to have them removed or faded through laser skin treatments.
What Are the Symptoms of Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks appear primarily on the breasts, hips, thighs, buttocks, and abdomen. When they first appear, your skin may be:
- Look pink, red, purple, or blue
- Be sensitive to the touch
Stretch marks can appear alone or in patches and can cover large areas of your body.
They are usually more prominent when they first appear and gradually fade over time, regardless of skin type.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Most frequently, stretch marks occur due to rapid expansion of skin across the body, usually due to weight gain, although extreme weight loss can also cause stretch marks to appear.
Two important proteins that contribute to skin health, collagen and elastin, become weak when the skin is stretched too quickly and can rupture.
This rupturing of collagen and elastin causes the appearance of stretch marks.
Who Gets Stretch Marks?
Anytime you gain or lose weight quickly, you can get stretch marks. Most frequently, people in their third trimester of pregnancy are especially prone to getting them.
This is because a growing baby gains the most mass during the third trimester, which can cause your ever-swelling abdomen to increase in size more quickly.
Additionally, natural weight gain associated with pregnancy can cause stretch marks on other areas of your body, like the breasts, hips, and buttocks.
You may even develop some on your upper arms. It’s normal to notice itchy skin and stretch marks during your second trimester.
Not everyone will get stretch marks during their pregnancy. About eight out of 10 pregnant people will get stretch marks during pregnancy, which means it is more likely you will get them instead of not getting them.
What Are Some Risk Factors for Stretch Marks?
You’re more likely to get stretch marks if you have a family history of stretch marks (i.e., other pregnant people in your family have had them).
You’re also more likely to get stretch marks if you are very young when you become pregnant or if you are underweight when you become pregnant.
Certain medical conditions, like Cushing’s Syndrome, also increase your likelihood of developing stretch marks.
How Can You Prevent or Reduce Pregnancy Stretch Marks?
While stretch marks can be an unwanted part of your pregnancy, they don’t harm your body or your baby’s development.
You can be proactive in your fight against getting them by following a few simple steps.
1. Gain a Healthy Amount of Weight
Gaining more weight can cause you to experience more stretch marks, especially on areas of your body like the hips, buttocks, and breasts.
Additionally, you’ll want to ensure you don’t lose your pregnancy weight too rapidly once your baby arrives.
It’s important to remember to take care of yourself once your baby arrives, including eating a healthy, balanced diet. Crash-dieting can affect your hormones, promote stretch marks, and influence your breast milk if you are breastfeeding.
2. Increase Your Water Intake
Most people choose lotion and creams to treat dry skin. While these can certainly be useful, increasing your water intake is the best way to hydrate dry skin.
During pregnancy, your body needs more water than it does when you are not pregnant.
Try to get at least eight to 10 glasses of water daily, keeping in mind that other fluids (like tea or juice) count toward the total. Make an effort to limit caffeine, which has a diuretic effect and can cause you to lose more water long term.
Hydrated skin responds better to the stress of rapid expansion, which can help reduce the number of stretch marks you develop.
3. Get Outside
Vitamin D is essential to your skin health, and getting enough might be challenging, especially if you aren’t eating foods that are fortified with it (like whole milk).
Your skin makes vitamin D in sunlight, so getting outside for a few minutes daily can help increase your vitamin D.
Taking a 10 to 15-minute walk each day can expose your skin to the sun and help you maintain a healthy pregnancy weight by increasing your heart rate and helping you support your body with exercise.
4. Load Up on Vitamin C
Collagen is the protein in your skin that supports your skin’s ability to stay plump and youthful.
It also helps encourage better elasticity in your skin. Your skin cells use vitamin C to help synthesize collagen, so increasing your vitamin C can help support your skin’s ability to make collagen.
Even though vitamin C creams are popular, the best way to get vitamin C to your skin cells is to eat foods that contain it. Foods that have high levels of vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Red peppers
Consider adding as many of these foods to your diet as possible to support healthy collagen synthesis and skin health.
Searching pregnancy products? We have some recommendations! 🤰🤰
An easy way to prevent stretch marks is to moisturize your skin thoroughly.
Some common natural remedies are coconut oil, cocoa butter, and almond oil.
Many drugstores offer specific stretch mark creams that include active ingredients like hyaluronic acid.
Moisturizing your skin can improve your skin’s elasticity. Good skin care will allow for more wiggle room as your skin stretches from rapid weight gain. Your body is doing incredible things, so give it what it craves with moisture.
6. See a Dermatologist
Sometimes, stretch marks just aren’t avoidable. If you notice a stretch mark developing, visit your dermatologist to determine a course of action.
Your dermatologist can give you treatment options that are safe and effective during your pregnancy and talk to you about what you can do to get rid of stretch marks once your baby arrives.
When To Call Your Doctor
Stretch marks are harmless, but if you experience them over large areas of your body, or if they become incredibly itchy, painful, or uncomfortable, you should see your doctor.
Although there is no cure for developing stretch marks, your healthcare provider can offer solutions to help you cope with them while you are pregnant.
Staying Healthy During Pregnancy
Stretch marks may be unavoidable during pregnancy, but you aren’t alone. Stretch marks are incredibly common, especially for pregnant people.
If your stretch marks bother you, there are ways to combat them, like increasing your hydration levels and making healthy pregnancy weight gain a goal.
Stretch marks aren’t harmful to your body or your baby, and you can learn to appreciate them as a sign of your body’s incredible ability to carry your baby.
If you have questions about developing stretch marks, talk to your doctor about your options.
Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
Recent Publications: Body Acne 101: Prevention and Treatment, Stress Acne: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment, What are the Side Effects of Midol?