How can I prevent stretch marks during pregnancy?
I'm in the first trimester of my pregnancy and my belly already starts to show. I don't want to end up covered in stretch marks like my mother and my sister. Does drinking water do any good?
In pregnancy, stretch marks are very common. Approximately 90% of women will develop them after their sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. Stretch marks as a result of pregnancy are common in certain areas such as the breasts and stomach. Genetics also play a part: women whose mothers got stretch marks are more likely to get them as well.
Although there is a range of stretch mark creams that claim to prevent stretch marks from developing, don’t believe the claims. Stretch marks result from tears in the skin’s dermis layer due to rapid growth. Topical ointments cannot effectively target skin to that depth. However, keeping the skin well-hydrated will enhance how it feels and looks, so there is value in regularly moisturizing the skin. Keeping your body well-hydrated is also beneficial, as it leaves the skin supple and better able to respond to sudden growth.
Make sure that you gain weight gradually over your pregnancy. This is the most important step you can take to avoid developing stretch marks. Women who gain a large amount of weight suddenly, or gain more weight during their pregnancy than is necessary, are more likely to experience stretch marks as the skin is forced to stretch rapidly to accommodate the sudden weight gain. Eat a balanced diet and maintain regular exercise as your body changes throughout your pregnancy.
If despite following this advice you find yourself developing stretch marks, bear in mind that they are easiest to treat when still fresh and red. Retinoids prescribed by a dermatologist can stimulate new collagen growth, improving the appearance of the stretch-marked skin. In-office laser treatments that heat the skin may also help fade stretch marks, as the heat boosts collagen production and reduces the appearance of blood vessels.
Up to 80% of women will develop stretch marks during pregnancy due to rapid weight gain. Although the skin is fairly elastic, rapid growth or stretching of the skin can disrupt the layer of connective tissue. The result is indented streaks on the skin, which may be red, purple, or silver in appearance.
For pregnant women, stretch marks appear most frequently on the breasts and the stomach. Stretch marks are often hereditary, so if your mother and sister had them, there is an increased possibility that you may have them too.
It’s great that you are taking precautionary steps to preserve your skin during your pregnancy. While there is no guaranteed method of ensuring that you will not get stretch marks, there are several measures you can take that may reduce your chances.
- Gain weight gradually
It is normal and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy. A woman should ideally gain between 25 and 35 pounds. But one mistake that many women make is gaining too much weight too quickly. Although you will need to eat more, you shouldn't be “eating for two.” It can be very tempting to give in to cravings and binge on unhealthy foods, but this is something to avoid. Eat a little of the food you have a craving for, then supplement it with a large serving of fruit or vegetables. If you can gain the weight gradually, you'll reduce the chance of ending up with stretch marks.
- Massage creams or lotions into your skin
One clinical study investigated the efficacy of topically applied creams among pregnant women. While the results were not entirely conclusive, they did find that a large proportion of participants who regularly massaged a topical cream or lotion into their skin on a regular basis did not develop stretch marks. There is still a lack of consensus about which ingredients are the most effective, but there is certainly no harm in massaging a hydrating lotion or oil into your skin to keep it supple as the skin stretches. Some women experience good results with Bio-Oil. Researchers have also found that products containing centella and hyaluronic acid may be beneficial.
Many women seek advice about how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. The short answer is that there is no surefire way to prevent stretch marks from occurring. Stretch marks occur when the skin stretches due to rapid expansion or contraction. The connective fibers in the dermis, or the middle layer of the skin, rupture and are damaged. The visible outcome is red or purple lines.
Stretch marks occur in the middle layer of skin affecting the skin’s elasticity, so topical skincare products are limited in their efficacy. There are many sites online encouraging pregnant women to moisturize with products containing Vitamin E, almond oil, shea butter, or cocoa butter to keep the skin supple as it grows and stretches. Regular application of such products will help with skin health and hydration. But there is unfortunately no conclusive scientific evidence that any of these products can prevent stretch marks from occurring.
Keeping your weight gain during pregnancy to a healthy level is one effective action you can take to minimize the risk of stretch marks. There is a tendency at the end of the second trimester and during the third trimester to gain weight rapidly, which can place stress on the skin. In addition, make sure you stay hydrated. Water keeps the skin healthy and the cells plump, so they are better equipped to respond to the stress caused by stretching. Proper hydration keeps the skin healthy and also helps you to feel full so you are less likely to overeat.
Finally, if you do start developing stretch marks, address them immediately. Studies show that stretch marks respond better to treatment when they are fresh. Silicone gel treatments can be effective in fading new stretch marks, as can products containing Vitamin A, such as retinoid creams. For some patients, fractional CO2 laser treatments can also even out skin tone and reduce the appearance of stretch marks. Or you can simply wait, as stretch marks will fade over time.
Stretch marks are actually a visible scar that occurs when your skin is stretched to the point of tearing. Some women get them and some women don't. There are many, many treatments for prevention and cure, but none of them have been proven to work. If it makes you feel better, you can keep your belly really well moisturized with cocoa butter or some other good-quality lotion. Good luck!