You might think there’s not a lot you can do to prevent stretch marks in pregnancy, especially if your mum had them when she was expecting you. But you would be wrong: you may not be able to stop stretch marks developing altogether but there are the steps you can take to make them less numerous and less visible.
1. Try to gain weight slowly and steadily
Stretch marks are caused, as their name suggests, by your skin stretching as your body grows to make room for your baby. If you put on more than the average amount of weight for a pregnant woman, your skin will have stretch even further. And the more you skin has to stretch – and the more rapidly it has to do it – the more stretch marks you'll likely to get.
So, aim to put on weight slowly and gradually throughout your pregnancy. And definitely don’t start eating for two: believing in that old wives' tale is a fast track to higher-than-average pregnancy weight gain. During your first 2 trimesters, generally speaking, you should aim for the same number of calories per day (about 2000) as a women who isn't pregnant. By your 3rd trimester, it's recommended you eat about 200 extra calories per – that's the equivalent of about 2 pieces of toast.
"If you eat a nutritious diet, you won’t put on more weight than expected during pregnancy," says midwife Virginia Howes, spokesperson for Independent Midwives UK and author of The Baby’s Coming. "And it will mean that your baby remains a healthy size too so your bump doesn’t get too big."
Here's a rough guide to normal weight gain (for a singleton pregnancy) over the 9 months of your pregnancy:
- Over the first 12 weeks, 1 to 2kg (2 to 4.5 lb) in total
- From week 12 to 28, 300 to 400g (10 to 14oz) per week
- From weeks 28 to 40 (the last 3 months), 1 to 3kg (2 to 6lb) per month
2. Exfoliate your skin
"Exfoliating helps stimulate a very small amount of cell activity in your fibroblasts, the skin cells supporting the structure of your skin, encouraging them to create new collagen and elastin," says Dr Nick Lowe, consultant dermatologist at the Cranley Clinic, London .
Exfoliation is safe in pregnancy, and has the added benefit of keeping your skin looking glowing and healthy: pregnancy hormones can increase the oiliness of our skin, and, when combined with dead skin cells, this can cause blocked pores, and for some of us, spots.
Dr Lowe advises exfoliating 2 or 3 times a week, preferably from the beginning of your pregnancy – although it's never too late to start. Don’t do it more often than 3 times a week, though, as exfoliation does have a drying effect.
Not sure how to exfoliate? Apply a moisturising shower cream to a buff puff or loofah, and stroke the buff puff or loofah gently over your skin, focusing on the areas prone to stretch marks – your belly, hips, and buttocks. If you skin looks red afterwards, you're stroking too hard.
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After exfoliating, apply stretch mark cream, oil or moisturiser to your skin.
3. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise
Oils, body lotions and creams will all keep your skin hydrated and supple, helping it to stretch more easily and without too much damage to your skin.
There are some creams specifically designed to prevent stretch marks in pregnancy and they generally contain ingredients which can stimulate collagen and fibre production.
If you're not fussed about buying a specialist stretch mark cream (or find them a bit to expensive), look out for 'normal' creams and oils that contain vitamin E, almond, grape, or ceramics – all of these are considered safe to use in pregnancy, says expert dermatologist Dr Ariel Haus.
Any brand will do – as long as you make sure you avoid products containing urea, salicylic acid or retinoids as these can be harmful in pregnancy.
Keeping your skin moisturised also has other benefits. "Rubbing cream into your body is a relaxing and pampering experience," says Virginia, "and by getting stuck in, your partner can feel more involved and connect with the baby."
4. Avoid hot showers and baths
Turn down the temperature on your shower or go for a tepid, rather than steaming, bath. Having a very hot (or very cold) bath or shower dries out your skin. And dry skin's more likely to develop stretch marks.
"The moment your skin gets dry, the elastin fibres start breaking down, increasing the chances of stretch marks," says Dr Haus. "If you live in an area with hard water, be more vigilant as hard water is particularly drying for your skin."
Incidentally, midwives also recommend you don’t take a hot bath because soaking for ages in hot water can raise your core temperature, which can affect your baby’s development.
To check that your bath or shower is just right in terms of temperature, test it with your elbow before you get in: it should feel nicely warm, rather than hot. You should be able to get in the water straight away without edging in slowly, and the temperature shouldn’t be so hot that it affects the colour of your skin.
5. Take nothing for granted if it's your 2nd or 3rd...
It's often said that if you didn’t get stretch marks with your first pregnancy, chances are you won’t get them with your subsequent pregnancies. And that's true (the likelihood of your getting stretch marks is mostly down to your skin type). But it's only true if you don't gain more weight this time around.
“Usually your skin stretches to capacity during the first pregnancy, so you’re most likely to get stretch marks in your first pregnancy,” says Virginia. “But if you’re bigger during the second pregnancy, you’ll have them then.”
This is something that mum SugarnSpicebump on our sister site Babyexpert would agree with. "I didn’t get one stretch mark with my first baby!” she says. “However, with my second and third, I was a lot bigger so I did get a few on my tummy, boobs and thighs."
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