A woman’s body undergoes many physical and physiological changes during the nine months of pregnancy. While many expectant mothers radiate with a beautiful glow, others experience uneven skin tone and unwanted physical changes due to the increase in blood flow and hormones. One major change is stretch marks. Studies show that 50% to 90% of women get stretch marks during and/or after pregnancy, even if they’ve never had them in the past1. Genetic factors may come into play: women whose mother and/or siblings developed stretch marks are more likely to have them as well. While most marks fade a few months after delivery, other more stubborn marks can leave subtle, yet permanent, scars on their body. So how do you prevent stretch marks from surfacing? Read on for what causes their appearance and for 5 tips on how you can naturally improve your skin’s elasticity and healing during and after pregnancy.
Why do we get pregnancy stretch marks?During pregnancy, your skin naturally expands to accommodate your growing abdomen. Since the skin is made of collagen and elastin fibers, it expands with weight gain. Stretch marks (also called striae) occur when the middle layer of the skin (the dermis) does not have sufficient time to adequately stretch with the rapid body growth or sudden weight gain associated with pregnancy — causing the underlying skin tissue to tear. Once it’s stretched, it may have trouble bouncing back to its original state. According to American Pregnancy, the appearance of stretch marks could be directly related to the increased flux in hormones, as “hormones attract more water into the skin, which relaxes the bonds between collagen fibers — making it easier for the skin to tear when it is stretched and for stretch marks to form2.” Pregnancy stretch marks are more flikely to appear in the thighs, the buttocks, the abdomen and the breasts. While they generally become more visible in the last trimester, some moms-to-be will see them forming as soon as their abdomens start growing. In their early stages, stretch marks will appear as thin pinkish streaks, and may also be itchy due to the skin being overly stretched. Over time, they enlarge and darken to a reddish or purple tone, or a lighter shade for darker skinned women. After pregnancy, they gradually start to fade and become pale white or almost translucent, appearing slightly depressed and irregular in shape. Getting rid of stretch marks can be challenging, because unlike other scars, they do not completely fade. While it’s important to know why and how stretch marks form, knowing how to help prevent them from developing in the first place is key.
5 Simple and effective tips to prevent pregnancy stretch marksWhile there’s no surefire way to eliminate stretch marks once they’ve formed, the best known treatment is prevention. There are a number of natural ways to give your body the tools it needs to prevent them from appearing in the first place:
Tip #1– Eat nutrient-dense foodsCollagen and elastin are essential building blocks for promoting skin suppleness and elasticity. The stronger and more abundant these fibers are, the less likely they are to tear and leave unwanted stretch marks. Eat foods that are rich in Vitamins E and C, zinc and silica, which help boost collagen production. Vitamins C, B2 and B3 are also known to promote healthy skin and protect it from damage3. Avoid junk, fried or processed foods: incorporating leafy greens, meat, citrus fruits, red peppers, sweet potatoes, nuts, eggs, protein and healthy fats into your daily diet will ensure you have the proper nutrition to keep your body and your baby healthy, your mind sharp, and your skin glowing.
Tip #2 – Stock up on Vitamin DA study by Koehler Zanella et al. found a correlation between a lack of vitamin D and the appearance of stretch marks4. While this claim still requires further research, soaking up some vitamin D may help reduce the occurrence of stretch marks. The easiest way to get your daily “D” dose is by staying in the sunlight for about 15 minutes (when UV levels are at their lowest). You can also ingest Vitamin D in pill form or eat foods like cereals, dairy, fish and some types of bread containing vitamin D to help with your daily intake.
Tip #3 – Exercise regularlyIn addition to boosting energy levels, reducing mood swings, improving sleep patterns and boosting your self-confidence, exercise can aid with stretch marks by improving blood circulation and oxygenation, which maintains the skin’s elasticity and ability to stretch as the baby grows. Improved circulation also reduces the occurrence of other issues, such as varicose veins and swollen ankles, which are common in pregnancy. If you’ve always been physically active, you should be able to resume your fitness activities in moderation. However, don’t exercise at your former level; instead, focus on lower impact forms of exercise. If you’ve never exercised consistently before, you can safely begin a low-impact exercise program during pregnancy after consulting with your healthcare provider5. There are so many options to choose from, such as swimming, walking, running, yoga, and pilates. Depending on your fitness level and the exercise you opt for, start with once a week and gradually work your way up to 3-4 times a week.
Tip #4 – Keep your skin (and your insides) well hydratedIn addition to a healthy diet and an exercise routine, the key to helping prevent the appearance of stretch marks is to keep your skin supple and moisturized from the inside out, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy. More recent stretch marks are easier to treat than older ones, so the best time to treat them is while they’re still in the initial “reddish” stage. Drink sufficient water (2-3 litres a day) to keep your skin hydrated and renewed. Apply a topical pregnancy cream and/or natural stretch oil packed with antioxidants, fatty acids and ingredients such as coconut, almond, argan, grapeseed or avocado oils, which are known for their deeply-moisturizing, antioxidant and skin healing properties. Avoid using essential oils during pregnancy, as they are potent and some may cause allergic skin reactions. Try massaging the affected areas at least twice daily (and every time you get out of the shower) throughout your pregnancy. This ritual will help moisturize, firm, and maximize the skin’s elasticity to allow it to stretch easier over time.
Tip #5 – Enhance your skin care ritualExfoliating and cleansing your skin at least once per week will help remove the top layer of dead skin cells and promote growth and healing in the deeper layers of skin, where stretch marks form6. Use natural ingredients like baking soda, sugar and whole oats, which are gentle on your skin and won’t cause dryness, irritation, or inflammation where your skin is already sensitive. Make sure to finish off with a natural gentle cleanser that won’t irritate your skin. Keep in mind that the best time to exfoliate is in the morning after your skin has had time to complete its natural reparative process overnight.
Use massaging techniques:Massaging affected areas in a circular and upward motion will help break down scar tissue that has accumulated and increase blood circulation, which will help reduce the look of stretch marks overall7.
Soak in hydrating baths:Natural soothing bath soaks containing ingredients like oatmeal will not only hydrate your skin, but will help you relax and unwind. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones that can interfere with or slow down your skin’s natural healing process.
ConclusionYour body undergoes a big stretch (no pun intended!) during pregnancy — so go easy on yourself! Your body needs sufficient time to repair skin tears caused by pregnancy. But don’t fret! With the right diet, proper hydration, low stress levels and a natural skin care routine, you’ll be well on your way to getting your pre-pregnancy body back, so you can focus on what’s important: your little bundle of joy!