75% – 90% of women will develop stretch marks, or striae, during pregnancy, usually during the 6th and 7th months when there is a spurt of fetal growth as well as maternal hormones. They are scars caused by damage to the skin’s collagen and elastin fibers, a protein mesh network that gives it its flexibility and ability to stretch and recoil back to its original position.
During pregnancy, a woman’s body increases production of the hormone ‘relaxin’ that softens the cervix, widens the pubic bone and facilitates labor. It also affects collagen metabolism, inhibiting collagen production and increases its breakdown. This actually weakens the skin, reduces its elasticity and increases the risk of developing striae even without the added stress of quick weight gain. Stimulating collagen production to keep or increase the skin’s elasticity is important in preventing or limiting them.
Pregnancy stretch marks appear mostly on the abdomen (tummy), bottom, thighs and breasts with the appearance depending on the skin tone. On light-skinned women, they are thin pink, red or purplish streaks and more brownish lines on darker skins.
Why some women get striae and others don’t seems to depend on a number of things, the biggest seeming to be genetics. If you got striae during puberty on your breasts or elsewhere, you may be at greater risk. If your mother or sister developed them, that may indicate that you might as well. Rapid or excessive weight gain will make them worse so it’s important to try not to gain any more weight than recommended, usually 25 – 35 pounds. You’re more likely to get them if you’re carrying multiples (more than one baby), or a big baby, resulting in larger growth and more stretching of the skin.
Many articles you will read will tell you that you can’t avoid pregnancy stretch marks no matter what, yet all of them say that an important factor in whether or not you will get them is the condition of your skin, it’s strength and elasticity. Using a product daily that is made to increase collagen production and increase your skin’s elasticity will help a lot. It may not prevent them completely since there are so many other factors involved, but it’s pretty much for sure you’ll get them if you don’t.
To help prevent pregnancy stretch marks:
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
- Drink a lot of water to stay well hydrated
- Avoid sudden, excessive weight gain
- Use a good quality cream that stimulates collagen growth and skin elasticity daily
Pregnancy stretch marks will fade in time, the lines becoming much less noticeable within 6 months to a year after giving birth but they won’t entirely go away. If they bother you, there are some steps you can take to diminish their appearance including laser surgery, microdermabrasion and striae treatment creams. All have some limitations, there are no perfect treatments. However, red marks can be reduced, white marks diminished and skin texture can be significantly improved to make it so that they can’t be seen easily.
Laser surgery can be effective, done on an out-patient basis with no recovery time needed. It reduces redness and encourages collagen growth, improving the look and texture of the skin. It usually requires more than one treatment and it is expensive with total costs adding up to $5,000 – $10,000. It is more effective on lighter skinned women.
Micro dermabrasion is also very effective, greatly improving thin striae so that they are hardly noticeable. Also a bit costly with treatments running about $100 – $200 per treatment.
Stretch mark creams are the most affordable solution though they take longer to work than laser or micro dermabrasion, requiring a few weeks of daily use to see significant results. Creams that are specially formulated for striae treatment greatly diminish their appearnace when used daily. The creams range from about $25 to $150 a bottle, with each lasting about a month.
Doing everything you can to prevent them in the first place is definitely the way to go!