The answer is simple – nothing really! Sorry to disappoint all the expectant mums and those like yours truly who have battle scars from our joys of motherhood.
But before we throw the baby out with the bath water (metaphorically speaking of course), let us de-myth what causes stretch marks and how to prevent or treat them.
What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks in pregnancy, also known medically as striae gravidarum are long narrow lines that appear as the baby grows. They commonly form around the abdomen area but can also be found around the hips, thighs, breasts and buttock areas. The usually start of as indented pink lines and gradually change appearance to brown and finally white or silver streaks.
What causes stretch marks?
Believe it or not, stretching and weight gain in pregnancy are actually not the main cause of stretch marks. There are women who don’t gain much weight and yet develop stretch marks. Approximately 50-90% of women can develop stretch marks during pregnancy. So not everyone gets it either!
The main culprit is believed to be increased levels of a hormone known as glucocorticoids. High levels of these hormones prevent the formation of collagen and elastin that keep our skin firm and taut. Glucocorticoids also thin the top layer of skin, known as the epidermis, and defects appear more visible.
Microscopically, collagen and elastin fibres are broken and in a disarray. Even after pregnancy, the collagen bundles and elastin fibres are unable to fully realign back to normal.
If your mother had stretch marks during pregnancy, there is a high chance that you will as well. Genetics is a strong determinant in who develops stretch marks. You just can’t avoid some things!
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Prevention & treatment
Since we can’t change our genes, it’s hard to prevent stretch marks from happening.
And as for treatment, there has not been any strong evidence-based solution yet.
Many women have tried creams with vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, natural oils such as jojoba and calendula oils. Some have reported them to work, some have said they are of no use. These are all anecdotal evidence without large clinical studies to back them up.
One thing they all have in common is that these creams do moisturise the skin. And this brings us back to my basics of looking after skin – moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!
Stretched skin also tends to be dry and may even itch. Therefore, it appears logical to apply a good moisturiser around the abdomen area during pregnancy. If it makes you feel better to have one with added ingredients, then go ahead but it may not do much difference.
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Post-pregnancy, applying an anti-pigmentation cream may help to blend the colour of the surrounding skin with the stretch marks so they don’t appear too obvious. Vitamin C and retinoids can also help in improving collagen formation and preventing further skin damage. But wait till baby is born before doing these treatments
Take home bites:
- Stretch marks in pregnancy are mainly genetically determined. Not everyone gets it and not much can be done to prevent it
- Creams and oils have not been proven to prevent or reduce stretch marks
- In my opinion, keeping your skin healthy during pregnancy is more important. Focus on the basics of cleansing, moisturising and protecting from the sun!