Linea nigra ('black line' in Latin) is a dark vertical line down the centra of your pregnancy, usually extending from your belly button down towards your pubic area, athough it can often start above the belly button (as it does in our pictures above).

Some of the physical changes of pregnancy are well known – after all, it is likely you are going to get a bump of some size! – but, maybe because not everyone pregnant woman gets one, the appearance of a linea nigra is not spoken about much. Which mean that it can come as something of a surprise.

What exactly is linea nigra?

It's a fibrous line in the wall of the abdomen, running from your breastbone to your pubic bone. It's a band of cartilage that keeps your abdominal muscles where they should be.

Interestingly, it's always there but it isn't normally so pigmented and it's called the linea alba ('white line').

So, whether you're pregnant or not – and whether you can see it or not – everyone always has the line!

Will I get a linea nigra?

The linea nigra can appear in anyone, whatever their ethnicity, race or background. It is present in most pregnancies to some degree but does seem to be more noticeable if you have darker skin or hair.

When does the linea nigra appear?

The linea nigra usually becomes more noticeable in your 2nd trimester, so you'll likely to see it (if you're going to be it at all) from about 20 weeks. The line can range in colour but tends to be about 1cm wide, and is the same width along its length.

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Why does the linea nigra appear?

Like most other signs and symptoms of pregnancy, it is related to your changing hormone levels. Your levels of oestrogen and progesterone rise during pregnancy, and these stimulate melanocytes in the skin. Melanocytes are cells which produce melanin, which is the substance which makes your skin darker, for example when you tan in response to the sun.

Stimulation of your melanocytes will mean they make more melanin. You may notice, for example, that you get some darker patches on your face or that your nipples darken – and you may develop the linea nigra on your abdomen.

Does it matter if I get a linea nigra or not? Does it affect my baby?

No. Seeing the linea nigra, or not seeing one, does not meant that there is anything wrong with you or your baby and it does not cause harm.

Can I tell the sex of my baby from the linea nigra?

There are some old wives' tales around the linea nigra.

It's said that if it starts at the bellybutton and runs downwards, it means you are having a girl, and if it starts higher up than the bellybutton, even as high as your breastbone or ribs, it means you are having a boy.

There is absolutely no evidence that this is correct!

Will it keep getting darker? Can I stop it getting darker?

It may darken a little. It's worth knowing that sun exposure can make it get darker, as melanocytes produce more melanin in response to the sun. As always, if you are exposing your skin to sunlight, it is important to use suncream.

Please don't use bleaching products, as these can irritate your skin or cause burns.

When will it go away?

As the levels of your hormones change and fall again after pregnancy, you may notice that the line begins to fade. It may go away completely. Often, it reappears in another pregnancy.

About our expert Dr Philippa Kaye

Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.

Last updated: 11 January 2023

Pics: Getty

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Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice.