How to Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy: Does Anything Work?

Badge of honor or war wound? I’m not going to make that call. However, I am going to guess you’re wondering how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. I wondered, too. Like all things pregnancy, there are a lot of myths and facts about what causes stretch marks and how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.

You may have heard that cocoa butter, coconut oil, or some secret home concoction will guarantee that you won’t get stretch marks. You may have also heard that there’s nothing you can do to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy and that you should embrace them.

First, the bad news. More likely than not, you’re going to end up with a few stretch marks during pregnancy. The good news, though, is that there are lots of things you can do to minimize their severity, help them heal faster, and make them look less noticeable than if you left them alone.

How Stretch Marks Happen

Simply put, a stretch mark is a scar on your skin. However, unlike an average scar, stretch mark scars are different. Most skin scars happen because you cut your skin open either by accident, like when you fall off your bike, or somewhat on purpose, such as when you have surgery.

In either case, your skin repairs itself by creating collagen around the injury. The collagen, which gives your skin strength and flexibility, works to repair your injury by reconnecting the damaged skin and tissues. When the body is done healing itself, the skin is in one piece again. However, it may be an imperfect connection, and that imperfection is known as a scar.

Unlike a scar from say, falling down the stairs and smacking your face into the downstairs banister (just sayin’), a stretch mark scar happens when your skin shrinks or stretches in a short period. Like, when you’re pregnant and growing a human inside of you.

This change (due to weight gain and fetal growth) can cause the collagen in our skin to break. And, when that happens, the supporting layers of tissue just under your skin tears. As your body heals the tear, the scar that forms is the stretch mark you see. However, because they are under the skin, they look different than the surface scars you are familiar with.

While stretch marks aren’t dangerous, they may be uncomfortable. Stretch marks can be slightly raised and even itchy when they happen. They can also be red, purple, pink, or even brown colored.

How Pregnancy Stretch Marks Happen

The main cause of stretch marks during pregnancy is the weight gain that happens during those nine months. And, there’s just no way to avoid that. However, two other factors can contribute to the development (or lack) of stretch marks during pregnancy.

First, during pregnancy, all sorts of things happen with your hormones. I’m not going to delve into the details of all those changes. However, some of the hormonal changes that occur may involve changes to the collagen bonds throughout your body. That said, there is no scientific study that proves hormonal changes contribute to stretch marks. It’s still just a theory.

During pregnancy, our joints get looser. This is to help make childbirth easier, allowing our hips to open more freely during birth. But, it happens in all of our joints. That’s why you’re more likely to drop a dish during pregnancy. This happens because collagen fibers (which are in our joints) loosen up.

Collagen fibers are also in our skin and our muscles. Tighter collagen bonds give our skin elasticity and give our muscles structure. But, when you're pregnant, the collagen bonds are looser. When we gain pregnancy weight, our skin and muscles are more likely to tear because the new weight is not supported as much due to the loose collagen fibers. This lack of support can cause stretch marks.

The other reason stretch marks happen is genetics. If you’ve got relatives that have lots of stretch marks, you’re more likely to develop them, too. Ask your mom (if you can) how she fared with stretch marks during pregnancy. But, keep in mind that if you’ve got a lot of male relatives that have stretch marks, you may develop them, too, even if your female relatives don’t have any.

When do stretch marks start in pregnancy?

In general, stretch marks are most visible starting around the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. However, some women report that they see stretch marks as soon as their belly starts growing. Unfortunately, just like it’s hard to figure out how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, there’s no easy way to predict when your stretch marks will become visible.

While stretch marks can show up anywhere on your body, most stretch marks will happen on your stomach area. That said, there are five other areas on your body that are more likely to develop stretch marks. This includes:

  • Breasts
  • Hips
  • Thighs
  • Lower back
  • Backside

Sometimes, the only clue you have that stretch marks are forming is a lingering itchiness. If you can’t see a particular area, but it’s very itchy, you’re probably developing stretch marks.

How to Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy

So, let’s get this out of the way. There is no guaranteed way to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. No matter what you do, eat, or rub on your growing belly, you’re probably going to end up with a few stretch marks somewhere.

Even if you can’t figure out how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, they will fade over time. Most stretch marks eventually fade to a color that’s close to your skin tone. However, the stretch marks will be a lighter tone, meaning you will still see the marks, but they won’t be as obvious as when they first occurred. And, if you run your fingers over the faded stretch marks, you may feel a slight indent where the stretch mark is. That’s normal.

There are, however, things you can do to help minimize the impact of the stretch marks you do develop.

How to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy: eat right

As much as I would love to say that pregnancy is a time to indulge whatever eating habits you want, we all know that isn’t true. However, to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, you’ll need to do more than avoid sushi.

Eating foods with vitamin C can help prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. Vitamin C, among other things, encourages collagen production. Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C, but, if you can’t stomach the acid, try broccoli, tomatoes or even berries.

Other anti-stretch mark foods include those rich in vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, and protein. These nutrients contribute to collagen production, are anti-inflammatory, and play a role in healing wounds. While there’s no evidence eating these foods will prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, eating a healthy amount of these foods won’t hurt, either.

How to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy: gain weight carefully

On that same note, a great way to help prevent stretch marks during pregnancy is to gain weight slowly and steadily. While that can be easier said than done (I know!), large or uneven weight gain only contributes to stretch mark formation. Because the collagen bonds are loose, fast weight gain (or uneven weight gain), makes it hard for your muscles to support the weight, creating the conditions for stretch marks to happen.

Stay hydrated

You hear it a lot when you’re pregnant: stay hydrated. There are a lot of reasons for that. However, one of the unsung benefits of hydration is that it might help prevent stretch marks during pregnancy.

Staying hydrated helps keep your soft and supple. Why does that matter? Because soft, supple skin is less likely to break as you gain pregnancy weight.

How to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy: exercise

Exercise during pregnancy is a good idea (as long as it’s safe and approved by your medical provider). It helps boost your energy level, can reduce mood swings, and may help you sleep better. I can also say from experience, that it improves circulation, which means your feet don’t swell as much. Improved circulation is good for the skin because it helps keep the skin elastic, reducing the possibility of stretch marks.

Safety First

While eating healthy, exercising, and staying hydrated are all great ideas in general, when you’re pregnant, it’s not always possible to do these things. Or, at least, as much as you should. Sometimes, the baby really wants a Ding-Dong.

And, even if you can do everything “right,” genetics may still defeat all your efforts. If that’s the case, you may want to try topical treatments to help minimize your stretch marks.

For the most part, you can use almost any type of lotion or body oil during pregnancy. However, as is often the case with pregnancy, it’s hard to test product safety on pregnant subjects. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration does not have many “use this, not that” lists for cosmetic products during pregnancy.

When in doubt, check with your medical provider about whether or not a topical product is safe to use during pregnancy.

How to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy with lotions and potions

There are a lot of lotions that say they help with stretch marks. And, to some extent, that’s true. Keeping your skin hydrated with lotion can help lessen the look of stretch marks. If nothing else, if your stretch marks itch, the lotion may help soothe the itching.

That said, no lotion will prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. If you find a product that guarantees it prevents stretch marks, run away.

The best thing you can do for stretch mark prevention is to apply lotion daily. The more you keep your skin hydrated, the less likely it is you will get stretch marks because you’re helping to keep your skin soft and supple. If you are pregnant and haven’t been applying lotion regularly, start! And, if you find a stretch mark, start applying lotion to it daily to help minimize the mark. Creams and lotions work better on newer stretch marks than older ones.

Hyaluronic acid: safe or not?

On miracle potion you may run across is hyaluronic acid. It’s everywhere right now. As someone who uses it, I have to say it is a miracle in a bottle. It’s something that occurs naturally in our bodies and helps skin stay flexible and hydrated. It can also help heal wounds -- such as stretch marks.

Like everything else, there are no studies that say if hyaluronic acid is safe to use topically during pregnancy. The general thought is that because hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in our bodies, it’s safer than many products. However, double-check with your medical provider for the all-clear.

Not during, but after

Retinoid creams help rebuild collagen and can improve the appearance of stretch marks, particularly if they are new marks. However, retinoid creams are derived from vitamin A, and high doses of vitamin A during pregnancy can lead to birth defects. While topical retinoids aren’t the same as oral retinoids, most health-care professionals advise avoiding retinoid creams during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

It’s Part of the Process

Unfortunately, if you’re going to get stretch marks during pregnancy, you’re going to get stretch marks during pregnancy. Asking how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy will get you a slew of answers, but in the end, there’s nothing that will stop them. Fortunately, there are ways to safely minimize the discomfort they can cause and ways to lessen their impact.

And, while there is much you can do to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, there are plenty of things you can do to help heal your stretch marks after pregnancy. In the meantime, rub your lotions and potions on your growing belly. If nothing else, you’ll smell lovely, and your skin will be as soft and as smooth as it’s ever been.

Do you have any methods that you feel did or didn't work for you? Tell us about them!

Featured Image: Pixabay License, via ast25rulos

October 30, 2019 — Alex Hartle

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