As a side effect of pregnancy, stretch marks top many womens most hated list! Mainly because they can last so long and are so visible. Most other effects (weight gain, discharge, aches and pains, uncomfortable stitches) are not as long lasting or can at least be hidden away or disguised.
But stretch marks (or striae to give them their proper name) are unfortunately a common occurrence in pregnancy. More than half of all mums-to-be can expect to find these rippled red and often angry-looking stripes on their skin.
Stretch marks occur in the middle layer of skin (the dermis) when the skin is stretched too much too quickly. This rapid stretching causes the dermis to break in places and allow the deeper layers of the skin to show through.
They start off red or purple then very gradually fade to a silvery-white colour. They are usually 1-10mm wide and a few centimetres long.
Experts actually dont know too much about pregnancy stretch marks. They know they are caused but why some women get them and others sail through pregnancy unblemished is a bit of a mystery.
The reasons could be partly hormonal, but skin type (oily or dry) and hereditary skin qualities are also thought to play a part.
Pregnancy stretch marks often appear at about 25 weeks, although some women can get them as early as the first trimester, before they’ve really gained too much weight.
The odds of getting pregnancy stretch marks are higher when women already have striae on their breasts or thighs–usually since puberty–or if they have a family history of such marks.
Having darker skin also is also a significant risk factor.
Preventing stretch marks
While it is thought that stretch marks are probably not preventable, for most women it may be possible to reduce their severity by gaining pregnancy weight steadily.
While pregnant you only need 400 to 500 calories more a day than the normal recommended calorie intake.
There are many creams, oils and ointments on the market which are targeted at preventing or improving stretch marks.
Some women say that moisturising their tummies daily from early on in the pregnancy gave their skin more elasticity and prevented stretch marks. While its not been proven scientifically it is certainly worth trying.
Massaging your skin everyday with moisturiser can also improve circulation, which encourages new tissue to grow.
Drinking lots of water will also help keep your skin hydrated which helps maintain its stretchability!