So you’ve got some pregnancy stretch marks? Don’t panic! There’s nothing you can do to get rid of them while you’re pregnant – although using a stretch mark cream may help reduce any new ones appearing – but it should be some comfort to know that, within 6 to 12 months of giving birth, your stretch marks really will have faded a lot.
After your baby is born before, there are some treatments that may improve the appearance of your stretch marks.
Here are the 3 most effective ones, as recommended by dermatologists. Surgery isn’t on this list for a good reason; do be wary of anyone promising you stretch mark removal by surgery: it can cause scarring.
1. Prescription creams
A strong stretch mark cream containing retinoids, prescribed by a dermatologist, can be used after you’ve given birth, according to Dr Nick Lowe, consultant dermatologist at the Cranley Clinic – even if you’re breastfeeding.
“There is some evidence from scientific studies that retinoid creams at prescription strength will stimulate new collagen and elastin tissue, and improve the appearance of some stretch marks,” he says.
It’s important to know that retinoid creams are absolutely not recommended for use in pregnancy – and, perhaps more importantly, that some dermatologists tend not to prescribe them to breastfeeding mothers.
Dr Lowe is confident that they’re safe to use while breastfeeding: “You can use retinoid creams while breastfeeding because they deliver an amount of vitamin A, and babies need vitamin A,” he says. “We just don’t want too much around when pregnant because it can harm the foetus.” If you’re breastfeeding, do make sure you mention this to your dermatologist before you’re prescribed a retinoid cream.
Be warned that these creams may not get rid of stretch marks completely and, when you stop using them, the marks may return.
2. Laser therapy
There are several types of laser treatment available for stretch marks. The most commonly recommended are CO2 laser therapy and pulsed dye laser treatment.
CO2 laser therapy can be used on both white and red stretch marks. It works by piercing tiny holes in your skin to reach the dermis layer underneath and stimulate the growth of new collagen.
Pulsed dye laser treatment doesn’t pierce the skin but works only for red stretch marks – in this treatment, laser energy targets the damaged blood vessels without affecting the surrounding skin.
Neither of these treatments may remove your stretch marks completely but both should ensure the marks fade and become much less noticeable.
Depending on the type of laser treatment, you should expect your skin to be red for somewhere between 3 days and 1 week afterwards.
You will need between 1 and 3 sessions for the best results. And, as laser treatment isn’t available on the NHS, you would need to go to a private clinic and pay for it.
3. Bi-polar radio frequency therapy
This is another treatment that’s not available on the NHS but, according to Dr Ariel Haus, a Harley Street dermatologist, it is most effective option for stretch marks.
During the treatment, little entry holes are made on your skin, and bi-polar radio frequency waves are used to target the damaged areas, stimulating the growth of collagen and elastin without affecting the surface of your skin.
“This sort of radio frequency therapy will completely remove your stretch marks and, because it’s a less aggressive treatment than laser therapy, your skin will only be red for 24 hours post-treatment,” says Dr Haus. “It can be done in your lunch hour.”
Between 1 and 3 treatment sessions are recommended for the best results. The cost is similar to that for laser therapy but this is a fairly new technology, so you may find it’s not available in your local area yet.
Alternatively, why not learn to love your stretch marks?
The other option is to do nothing. As we’ve said above, your stretch marks will naturally fade to a pale silvery colour over time and become less and less noticeable – especially if you have very pale white skin.
“Don’t forget that, as they fade, you’ll be less bothered by them,” says independent midwife Virginia Howes, author of The Baby’s Coming. “You never hear a mum with a toddler talking about her stretch marks!”
And, of course, they are your ‘badge of motherhood’.
“I remind new mums that you’ve just given birth to a baby – so be proud of those stretch marks!” says Virginia. And on our forum, a new mum described them as being like the footprints of her babies. They’ll always be with her, and they each have their own set.
Mum Sarah85_x is equally as proud of them: “They are the marks of being a mummy – I’m proud that they show what I carried into this world!”