By James Brann, MD
Stretch Marks: Prevention and Treatment During Pregnancy
More than half of all pregnant women will develop stretch marks during their pregnancy. Otherwise known as striae gravidarum, stretch marks look like streaks on the surface of the skin, and may be vary in color depending on your natural skin color. Most lighter skinned women develop pinkish stretch marks, whereas darker skinned women tend to have stretch marks that are lighter than the surrounding skin. Most women develop stretch marks on their abdomen during pregnancy, however it is also common to get stretch marks on the buttocks, hips, breasts and thighs. In some cases up to 90 percent of women have stretch marks on some part of their body as a result of pregnancy.
What Causes Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks form when your skin is stretched rapidly as happens during pregnancy. Most women develop stretch marks during the later trimesters of pregnancy though some women start to develop them as soon as their bellies start growing.
Stretch marks are actually small tears that form in the tissue that supports the skin and helps it stretch. Stretch marks represent the tearing or separation of collagen from the skin when tearing occurs. Stretch marks are not harmful or painful and usually fade over time.
Who Gets Stretch Marks?
Many women believe that using lotions and creams help prevent stretch marks. Realistically speaking however, the number of stretch marks you get depends on how elastic your skin is. The elasticity of your skin usually relates to your genetic make up. The best thing you can do is find out if your mother got bad stretch marks during pregnancy. If she did, you are probably more prone to stretch marks than other women.
Keep in mind the more weight you gain during pregnancy the more likely you are to have stretch marks. Normally the skin is elastic and capable of stretching quite a bit, however for some women the changes that occur during pregnancy are very drastic. These rapid fluctuations of weight and skin stretching can result in stretch marks.
Women with multiples are more likely to get stretch marks because their bellies usually grow much larger than women with single pregnancies. Other women likely to develop stretch marks include women who gain a lot of weight quickly during their pregnancy and women who carry big babies.
Here are some other factors that may contribute to your susceptibility to stretch marks:
* If you developed stretch marks before (like on your breasts during puberty) you are more likely to get stretch marks while pregnant. * If you had stretch marks during another pregnancy you will usually get them again. * If you are overweight or gain more weight than recommended you are more likely to get stretch marks. * The better hydrated and well nourished you are the less likely you are to develop serious stretch marks.
Stretch Mark Prevention
Most women believe that they can prevent stretch marks by using creams and lotions. There are many formulations on the market today that claim to help prevent stretch marks. Some of these may help moisturize your skin and reduce itching. They may help reduce some stretch marks however there are no scientific studies that support this.
You probably know at least one parent however that swears by cocoa butter or some other formulation to prevent stretch marks. If nothing else rubbing these creams into your belly provides your unborn baby with a light and comforting massage. They may also give you peace of mind knowing you did everything possible to prevent stretch marks.
The best thing you can do to minimize stretch marks aside from using any creams or moisturizers you select is gaining the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy. Doctors recommend most women gain between 25 and 34 pounds. Gaining much more than this can cause you to develop more stretch marks.
Removing Stretch Marks
Most women worry about stretch marks after they have their baby. Fortunately most stretch marks do fade with time. Usually after 12 moths postpartum most stretch marks are light and less noticeable. Their texture may remain different from the surrounding skin however. Many women notice their stretch marks fading into whitish lines that are minimally noticeable.
Some women have very severe stretch marks that impact their self esteem after pregnancy. There are many treatments available for women that want to improve the appearance of their stretch marks.
If your stretch marks are particularly bad, you may consult with your doctor or a dermatologist. Some topical treatments such as tretinoin cream can help reduce stretch marks. These creams must be used after pregnancy however, because they can cause defects in your unborn baby.
Most of the topical treatments available should be used shortly after delivery, before they start to fade. The more time that passes between the delivery and use of cream, the less likely they are to be effective.
If you are breastfeeding it is important you consult with your doctor before using any stretch mark treatments. Some treatments may impact your milk supply or pass through the breast milk to your baby.
Most of the creams available to reduce stretch marks do not help relieve the sagging skin that also accompanies childbirth. There are some newer treatments including laser treatments however that may improve the skins elasticity and help reduce stretch marks. Some women also consider plastic surgery after they are done having children. A tummy tuck can help hide some stretch marks and reduce sagging skin.
Most women are able to joyfully overlook stretch marks when they consider the miracle of life they bring into the world. For the most the small annoyance even the worst stretch marks bring are well worth the joys of bringing a newborn baby into the world. Do what you can during pregnancy to maintain an appropriate weight and try not to worry too much about stretch marks. Many women wear them with pride, a ‘war wound’ or “badge of honor” related to their pregnancy. Why not wear them with pride?
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