Let's start with the bad news first (brace yourself): you probably will get some stretch marks while you're pregnant. Nine out of 10 of do.* But – and this is the better news bit – for many of us, they won't be super-big, super-red or super-scary and they will fade over time.
And there are lots of things you can do to help make sure you don't get too many stretch marks, and to help make sure those you do get are as unnoticeable as possible.
What do stretch marks look like?
Pregnancy stretch marks, or striae gravidarum as some Latin-loving doctors call them, are small depressions on the surface of your skin, showing up as lines or streaks, that can appear on your skin as it’s rapidly stretched by your growing baby bump. On white skin, they tend to be pinkish, purplish or red; on black skin, they show up as lighter than the surrounding skin.
Stretch marks tend to be at their most visible while you are pregnant; within about 6 to 12 months of having your baby, the pigmentation in your stretch marks usually fades to a much less noticeable, faintly silvery colour. Their ever-so-slightly bumpy texture, though, will remain the same.
Where on your body do you get pregnancy stretch marks?
Stretch marks don’t just appear on your belly (where the most obvious pregnancy skin-stretching is happening). It's quite common to get them on your hips, thighs, buttocks and breasts. And some pregnant women will see the odd stretch mark on their back, calves and arms too..
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How do you get them?
Stretch marks are caused by the rapid stretching of skin – that's why people who aren't pregnant can get them if they quickly put on or lose a lot of weight. And, obviously, your pregnancy is going to cause your skin to stretch more and faster than usual.
The stretching actually happens in the dermis, the middle layer of your 3 layers of skin. The dermis is made up of strong fibres that connect to each other and allow your skin to stretch as your body grows. But, if your body grows rapidly over a short space of time (as it will in pregnancy), these fibres can become thin and over-stretched or even break.
Not helping matters at this point are your pregnancy hormones. They also play a part in the formation of stretch marks because, says Dr Nick Lowe, consultant dermatologist at the Cranley Clinic, London, "they damage the collagen and elastin in your dermis – proteins that offer support and elasticity to your skin."
They may not be the prettiest thing to look at but pregnancy stretch marks aren't harmful. They don't cause medical problems – to you or your baby.
Why do some pregnant women get more stretch marks than others?
Some pregnant women get lots of stretch marks, some get just a few – and a few lucky so-and-sos don't get any stretch marks at all.
Sadly, there's no way of knowing for sure which group you're going to fall in to. But there are some things that may increase your chances of getting stretch marks:
* Weight gain. The more your skin has to expand during pregnancy and the more quickly it happens, the more likely you are to develop stretch marks. So, stretch marks are probably unavoidable if:
- You rapidly gain weight during one phase of your pregnancy.
- You're carrying twins, triplets or more.
- You're carrying a big baby.
- You have excess amniotic fluid.
* Hormones. The stretch mark gods may not be in your favour if you happen naturally to produce a larger amount of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol decreases the amount of collagen in your skin, which, as we've seen above, is a protein in the dermis that helps keep your skin fibres stretchy.
* Genes. Did your mum get pregnancy stretch marks? If she did, chances are you will, too, as your skin type is inherited and some skin types are just naturally more elastic than others.
When do pregnancy stretch marks appear? Are there any warning signs?
Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling that a stretch mark is shortly due to appear. You may experience some itchiness or tingling in the skin but a pregnant bump tends to feel itchy as it stretches anyway – whether you get stretch marks or not.
Pregnancy stretch marks tend to appear most commonly in your 3rd trimester, with the odds skewed heavily towards the end of your pregnancy. After all, this is when your skin is stretched to maximum.
Mum AMY25 agrees. "I am 32 weeks and started getting a few on my side but not loads. They say they tend to appear in the 6th and 7th month of pregnany."
As does linzimc88: "I had none until very late on, I'd say about 37 weeks. I was using both bio oil and cocoa butter but ended up covered!"
Some women swear they only got stretch marks once their baby was born. But, chances are, the marks were actually already there but hidden in an awkward place, like under your bump, where they weren't easy to spot before the birth. Alternatively, says Harley Street dermatologist Dr Ariel Haus, they may have formed deep within your skin very late in pregnancy but didn't 'show' until you (naturally) shed the top layers of your skin some days later (and maybe after the birth).
There is one exception, though, to the 'no stretch marks after birth' rule: your breasts. Within a week of having your baby, your milk will come in, making your breasts rapidly swell in size and forcing the skin of your breasts into full-on stretch mode. If you're going to get stretch marks on your breasts, this is probably the time when they'll arrive.
* Source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
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