Avoiding the Dreaded Stretch Marks
Congratulations, you’re pregnant! I’ll bet putting on a bikini next season is about the last thing on your mind - it’s easy to forget (or simply not care!) about the way you look, as your body, diet, routine and relationships are all adapting to make way for baby.
But don’t surrender yourself totally! Between 75 and 90% of women develop stretch marks during pregnancy. As you put on weight, the abdomen (stomach) is gradually stretched further and further, usually causing stretch marks to appear in the sixth or seventh month. If you’re really unlucky, stretch marks can appear on the thighs, buttocks and on the breasts as they get bigger and heavier.
The marks start off as thin, parallel red lines in the dermis (the middle layer of skin). They happen when the skin is stretched over a short period of time, and as time goes on, the skin becomes thin and silvery and may appear scar-like. Whilst the marks can fade and become less noticeable, this may take years and a few simple steps from the early days of pregnancy can help keep you in bikinis just that little bit longer...
You see, not everyone gets stretch marks. Doctors think some people get stretch marks because their bodies produce more of the hormone, corticosteroid, than normal. This hormone decreases the amount of collagen in the skin, and collagen is the protein which keeps our skin fibres stretchy. Most people’s skin needs daily help to give it the best chance to survive the 9+ months intact.
Massage your skin, maintain a healthy diet
Massaging your skin everyday with moisturiser or a massage glove can help to improve circulation, which encourages new tissue to grow. It is also important to eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins, especially vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc and silica that help to keep skin the healthy.
Drinking lots of water will help with many aspects of pregnancy, including keeping your skin hydrated.
Moisturisers and creams
Start early, and pick creams which contain vitamin E or vitamin A. Creams containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are made with plant extracts and can also help. Don’t be drawn in by false promises – there’s no proof these creams can actually prevent stretch marks, but there’s some evidence that frequent use from early on can help reduce the effects by keeping the skin supple, and the action of rubbing in the cream can encourage better circulation.
A simple 2:1 mixture of almond oil and cold-pressed wheatgerm oil has been used by women for generations, but there are lots of ready-mixed creams on the market now which women swear by, many of which have the advantage of being non-greasy. See below for recommendations from our team of mums!
Don’t Eat for Two!
Your appetite increases at various points in your pregnancy and it’s normal to put on weight, but it is a myth that you need to ‘eat for two’. Pregnant women need to take in extra calories to nourish baby (about 500 extra calories per day), but make sure these calories are from nutritious foods, not fatty ones, so that you put on weight gradually and are able to shed pounds easily once you’ve finished breastfeeding. As a rough guide:
- It is normal to gain 1 to 2kg (2 to 4.5 lb) over the first 12 weeks
- From week 12 to 28 it is normal to gain 300 to 400g (10 to 14oz) per week
- From weeks 28 to 40 (the last 3 months) it is normal to gain 1 to 3kg (2 to 6lb) per month.
See your GP, midwife or health visitor for advice if you are worried that you aren’t gaining weight at the correct rate.
If you’re concerned about stretch marks there are alternative treatments, though you will have to wait until you are no longer pregnant and have finished breastfeeding. Tretinoin or Retin-A creams are derived from vitamin A and are available on prescription, so see your GP for more advice.
If you’re really keen to be rid of the dreaded marks, laser surgery doesn’t strictly remove stretch marks, but it can help them to fade. Laser treatment can be very expensive, and isn’t available on the NHS. An even more extreme option is abdominoplasty, an expensive operation which removes excess fat, skin and stretch marks from your belly area.