Stretch marks are small, depressed streaks in the skin that appear most often on the abdomen in the later stages of pregnancy when the belly is rapidly expanding to accommodate a growing baby. Some women also get them on their buttocks, thighs, hips, and breasts.
Stretch marks are caused by changes in the elastic supportive tissue that lies just beneath the skin. They start out pink, reddish brown, purple, or dark brown, depending on your skin color. They later fade, although they never totally disappear.
How can I tell if I’ll get stretch marks?
It’s hard to predict. At least half of pregnant women get stretch marks, but no one can tell with certainty who’s going to get them and who won’t. However, there are some factors that increase your chances of getting stretch marks.
Research suggests that genetics plays a role: If your mother or sister got stretch marks during pregnancy, you’re more likely to get them, too. Also,some studies show that younger moms, particularly teens, are more prone to getting stretch marks.
In addition, the more your skin has to expand during pregnancy and the more quickly it happens, the more likely you are to develop stretch marks. For this reason, you’re more likely to get stretch marks if:
- You gain a lot of weight rapidly.
- You’re carrying multiples.
- You’re carrying a big baby.
- You have excess amniotic fluid.
What can I do to prevent stretch marks?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do. Gaining no more than the recommended amount of weight — in most cases, 25 to 35 pounds — and gaining it slowly may reduce your chances of getting stretch marks.
There’s no proof that any of the creams, salves, and oils that claim to prevent stretch marks actually work. (Keeping your belly well moisturized as it grows may reduce itching, though.)
Do stretch marks ever go away?
The good news is that stretch marks usually become considerably less noticeable about six to 12 months after childbirth. The pigmentation fades and they generally become lighter than the surrounding skin (the color will vary depending on your skin color), but their texture will remain the same.
Is there anything I can do to get rid of stretch marks later?
You won’t be able to banish them altogether, but if your stretch marks still bother you after your pregnancy, talk to a dermatologist about ways to minimize them. There are a variety of treatment options.
Topical medications such as tretinoin (Retin-A) and glycolic acid may help. (Note: Retin-A is not safe to use during pregnancy and there’s no reliable information on the amount excreted in breast milk or its effect on a nursing infant, so it’s best avoided while breastfeeding.)
There’s some evidence that laser treatments can help restore the skin’s elasticity and also change the pigmentation so the stretch marks better match the rest of your skin.Be aware that the appearance of stretch marks is considered a cosmetic issue, so insurance probably won’t cover the cost of dermatology appointments, medications, and procedures.