The business of baby-growing involves a deal of sweating, swelling, and stretching of the skin. Your postpartum body may look and feel quite different than the one you knew before a little one set up camp in your uterus—especially when it comes to the skin you’re in.
And for some of us, that means one thing: stretch marks.
With hundreds of products on the market aimed at destroying them, misleading advice on how to avoid them, and those pictures on Instagram of women who make it past birth with nary a scar on their tummies, it’s hard to know what to believe about these pesky imprints. So Truly Mama is bringing you the science behind stretch marks to help you discern myths from facts when it comes to stretch marks during and after pregnancy.
The Science Behind Pregnancy Stretch Marks
A stretch mark is a type of visible scar that forms on the skin when it grows or shrinks rapidly. Stretch marks can actually occur any time in life, such as with puberty or even in weight-lifters when they suddenly gain muscle, but they’re also extremely common with pregnancy and postpartum, when women gain and lose weight rapidly. And during pregnancy, your skin is even more susceptible to stretch mark scarring thanks to hormonal changes. Those same pregnancy hormones that support your growing baby and belly also cause the underlying elastic fibers in your skin become weaker and more prone to stretching.
Stretch marks can vary in shape and color, from purple to brown to red, depending on the color of your skin. They usually show up reddish or dark in color and can be itchy. Oftentimes, stretch marks, like scars, will fade to a lighter color with time. They can sprout up on your belly, buttocks, breasts, or legs.
Stretch marks occur in more than half of all pregnant women. There are several factors that determine the likelihood of stretch mark development, including maternal age and weight gain. Simply watching your weight, however, isn’t a guarantee that stretch marks won’t creep up on your skin—there’s a genetic component that makes it inevitable for some women to develop them. That means that if you have the gene for stretch marks, there’s not a whole lot you can do to stop them. How can you know if you have the gene? You may not know for sure until your pregnancy, but a good indicator is if your mom, sisters, or other female family members have stretch marks too. It might just run in the family.
In other words: stretch marks are not your “fault.” Instead, they are a perfectly normal occurrence brought on by the physical changes of pregnancy for some people.
“In other words: stretch marks are not your “fault.” Instead, they are a perfectly normal occurrence brought on by the physical changes of pregnancy for some people.”
How to Prevent Stretch Marks
The combination of pregnancy hormones, genetics, and a swelling belly make pregnancy stretch marks generally unavoidable, especially if you have certain genes that make you susceptible. That doesn’t mean you should totally neglect your skin care routine, though. Here are some tips that may help you be more comfortable in the skin you’re in during pregnancy:
- Stay moisturized. Keeping your skin moisturized and staying hydrated will support your skin though its rocky relationship with your hormones. All that skin stretching can get itchy!
- Keep active. Exercise and movement during pregnancy and postpartum can also provide benefits to your physical and mental health, helping to keep your hormones as balanced as possible. All of this may not totally circumvent the presence of stretch marks, but being proactive about caring for your skin can be helpful in avoiding complications.
- Try a pregnancy-safe product. If you’re looking to protect your skin during pregnancy, there are plenty of moisturizers safe for pregnancy. Some skincare products that can help keep a baby belly comfortable include The Honest Company’s Body Butter and a luxurious vegan stretch mark oil. Finding a moisturizing product that is right for your skin type and circumstance will help you feel more confident in your baby-bearing body, and it can enhance that pregnancy glow, too.
How to Get Rid of Stretch Marks
We have good news and bad news here: according to the American Dermatology Association, there is no way to permanently get rid of stretch marks, but they will get better over time. Stretch marks will fade in color and become less noticeable over time.
There is also evidence that supports collagen intake can help improve the appearance of skin by supporting its elasticity, so picking up a supplement powder like this one is not a bad move. But in all your efforts, keep in mind that nothing will totally erase the marks from your body, and any products that claim so should be met with skepticism.
For severe stretch marks, there are some procedures that can make the severe stretch marks less noticeable. These include treatments such as laser therapy, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels. If you have any questions about reducing the appearance of your stretch marks, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about your options.
Embracing Your New Body
If you’re struggling with loving any part of your post-baby body, know that you aren’t alone. Embracing your stretch marks can be extremely difficult, especially in the early postpartum days. You may find yourself longing for your “old body” or wondering how to love your new skin as it is adorned with new scars, marks and lines. This thinking is totally normal and nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s worth shifting your focus: your body did something incredible.
A body-positive outlook does not come easily to many. It may be helpful to say to yourself, out loud, that you are more than what you look like on the outside. Keeping a gratitude journal of things you appreciate about your life and your body can help maintain a positive attitude, as well as reading books and listening to podcasts with a positive message. Practicing self-care can also be a practice that can boost your mood and perceived body image.
It is so important not to compare yourself to anyone, even your pre-pregnancy self.
“It is so important not to compare yourself to anyone, even your pre-pregnancy self.”
Parenthood brings changes all around: some temporary and others permanent. Your stretch marks, although they might not look like anything particularly brave and mighty, are a reminder that you are capable of bringing life into the world.
For better or worse, they are now a part of your new life and it’s completely up to you to decide how to see them—they can be scars or a sign of the growth you’ve gone through.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you avoid stretch marks during pregnancy?
Not completely. Stretch marks can’t be totally avoided because there is a hormonal component and a hereditary component to them that makes it very likely some women (but not all!) will develop them.
What's the best thing for stretch marks during pregnancy?
Staying hydrated and moisturized can help your skin stay smooth and comfortable. And let’s be honest: a little self-care never hurt anyone too, right?
How do you know if you're getting stretch marks during pregnancy?
Stretch marks may show up in the later trimesters of pregnancy as red, itchy marks on skin. Other times, stretch marks may not appear until after your baby is born.
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