You are pregnant and delighted. You’ve waited a long time for this. And then your friend shows you her tummy and the result of her pregnancy: Stretch marks! Huge, red, jagged, scary looking stretch marks.
It takes your breath away. Is this your destiny? Is that what your belly is going to look like when it’s all said and done?
Maybe; maybe not. Some women never get a stretch mark even though they have had multiple pregnancies while others are doomed from the start: One pregnancy and their belly looks like the road map from hell.
A stretch mark (‘striae’) appears when skin is stretched too far and too hurriedly and stays in the expanded position for a long period of time, as occurs during pregnancy. The marks are either red, pink or purple and can be deep and grooved.
Whether or not you will be a victim of stretch marks depends in large part on the luck of the draw. In other words, your genetics. Did your mother get them when she was pregnant? If so, you probably will, too.
K.C. (the mother of two): Are the rest of the un-luck of the draws choosing not to claim this badge? I used cocoa butter but was not spared in the least.
G.R. (the mother of four): No stretch marks; never did anything to prevent them. Yes, I think it’s the luck of the draw!
When you think about it, it is pretty amazing skin manages to stretch as far as it does without tearing while accommodating a rapidly growing baby. It is even more remarkable when it achieves this without any permanent signs of wear and tear. Take a gander at model Heidi Klum’s washboard abs and she’s had four pregnancies. But then again, most of us are not genetic goddesses like Klum.
J.W. (the mother of four): Lots and lots, all over, and they are still hanging around.
Elastin and Collagen
All humans have elastin in their skin, which makes skin supple, lithe and capable of extending and then returning to normal after a pregnancy. However, some skin stretches better and easier than others. When skin is stretched to the extreme, as it is during pregnancy, elastin can’t always keep up and, voila, striae appear. (So much for wearing that bikini next summer.)
L.B. (the mother of eight): I didn’t use anything but the marks were very minimal. Some of my friends, on the other hand, were not so lucky. I do feel using something to help prevent them is a good thing. Some people just have more stretchable skin.
The stronger the collagen and elastin fibers in your skin the less apt they are to break, resulting in stretch marks.
Elastin is a protein in body tissue and skin. It allows skin to stay tight but flexible and provides the bound-back response when skin is pulled, as it is during pregnancy. Collagen is the primary component of connective tissue, allowing skin to maintain suppleness, firmness, pliability and the ability to stimulate new cells.
H.S. (the mother of two): I have stretch marks on my belly from hip to hip and I used some expensive lotion that was supposed to work well. I’ve asked my doctor about them and she said they are hereditary. I’m proud of my tiger stripes! It’s a daily reminder how lucky I am to have my children.
So how do you maintain collagen and elastin? Eat foods containing vitamins C and E and silica, all of which are necessary in the formation of collagen. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which safeguards tissue from damage, according to Americanpregnancy.org. B3, which is niacin, and B2, which is riboflavin, also encourage and preserve healthy skin.
Keep yourself (and your skin) hydrated by drinking lots of water, which reinforces and renews skin.
Some mothers-to-be swear by cocoa butter, which they apply regularly and liberally to their bellies, breasts, hips and thighs during pregnancy. Keeping your skin lubricated empowers it to stretch easier and rebound quicker.
B.L.: After five children, almost no stretch marks. I used cocoa butter and vitamin E.
Ask your Ob-Gyn what she recommends. She may suggest a cream containing vitamin E, panthenol, menthol, gotu kola and hyaluronic acid or one including shea butter or a product consisting of aloe vera, grape seed oil and vitamin B.
M.W. (the mother of two): I didn’t get stretch marks. I used a product called Mother’s Friend.
Exercising does help because it enhances blood circulation. When circulation is optimal skin stays elastic and stretches easier. Exercising also wards against swollen ankles and varicose veins during pregnancy.
Try not to gain an excessive amount of weight. We know, you’re pregnant, you’re supposed to grow but when you gain too much, too fast, it is going to take a toll on your skin.
You delivered your baby and all is well but you did end up with stretch marks. Can you get rid of them? Exfoliating skin will minimize the marks but not get rid of them entirely.
Some opt for micro-dermabrasion. This technique delivers coarse particles into the skin to remove the top layers. When new skin appears, stretch marks may not be as obvious.
Another option is laser resurfacing, where pulsating dye makes its way into the top layer of skin via a laser. This results in brand-new tissue growth.
A chemical peel is another alternative. Acid is used to remove the topmost layers of skin.
Retin-A cream (vitamin A and tretinoin) is effective on new stretch marks but do not use Retin-A products while pregnant or breastfeeding. Vitamin A hastens cell division which quickens skin renewal and safeguards against collagen break-down. However, elevated doses of vitamin A during pregnancy can be dangerous to the fetus, particularly oral retinoids, such as Accutane, which is used to treat acne. Err on the side of caution and avoid retinoids until you are finished breastfeeding.
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