A pregnant woman experiences numerous hormonal and physical changes, including stretch marks. The cause of stretch marks is the stretching of the skin. Their severity is affected by several factors, including your genetics and the degree of stress on the skin. It can develop during or after pregnancy and typically appear on the stomach, thighs, and breasts. However, it can continue even after delivering the baby and can be made less visible with various treatments.
This blog explains pregnancy stretch marks, their causes, and their treatment in depth.
What are stretch marks?
In pregnancy, stretch marks are also known as striae gravidarum. It is nothing but a type of scar that occurs when the pregnant women’s body becomes bigger , the skin stretches , resulting in the elastic fibre under the skin breaking. Pregnant women develop stretch marks in the abdomen and breasts, which are the body parts that rapidly stretch. It also develops in the arms and buttocks.
When stretch marks appear, they may feel slightly raised, often reddish or purple. However, as time progresses, they feel like small depressions on the skin. It changes to white or grey after pregnancy. Stretch marks can be itchy when they initially appear. They are common and affect about 8 in 10 pregnant women. Stretch marks are painless, harmless, and may not require any treatment as they fade over time.
What are the causes of stretch marks during pregnancy?
Stretch mark severity is affected by several factors, including genetics and the degree of stress on the skin.The level of the hormone cortisol also might play a role. Cortisol — a hormone produced by the adrenal glands — weakens elastic fibers in the skin. However, an expectant mother is more likely to get stretch marks if she uses corticosteroid medication or experiences underlying medical conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome, or Marfan syndrome.
Genetics also plays a vital role in the development of stretch marks in the expecting mother. If the pregnant woman’s mother developed stretch marks during her pregnancy , the chance of the pregnant woman experiencing stretch marks are also high. may develop stretch marks depending on their skin’s elasticity. Also, lifestyle habits (food and exercise) promote skin health and elasticity. The probability of women developing stretch marks also depends on their weight and the pace at which they gain it.
Stretch marks develop as the baby grows, the skin stretches, and the bump expands. As pregnant women gain weight rapidly, pregnant women are more susceptible to marks. Stretch marks do not cause medical issues and develop differently in every woman.
When should women call the doctors regarding stretch marks?
Since stretch marks treatment is different for everyone, women must consult with a dermatologist. They will discuss the various options and help them with the best treatment for their skin type.
What are the symptoms of stretch marks?
The following are the symptoms of stretch marks:
- Indented streaks or lines on different parts of the body, particularly the abdomen, breasts, hips, and buttocks
- Bright streaks that are in pink, red, black, blue or purple in colours and that may fade to a lighter shade after pregnancy
- The lines cover large areas of the body
Who is at risk of developing stretch marks?
Most pregnant women get stretch marks. But the following factors may increase the likelihood of developing one.
- Genetics or family history of stretch marks
- Being pregnant at a young age
- Rapid weight gain
- Having corticosteroids
- Underlying genetic disorders such as Cushing’s syndrome or Marfan syndrome
What are the different treatments for stretch marks?
Generally, treatment is more effective when doctors treat stretch marks earlier rather than later . Therefore, women must start treatment early. The different therapies may include:
- Chemical peels: The doctor, dermatologist or plastic surgeon can perform chemical peels to remove the dead skin cells from the skin’s outer layer.
- Laser therapy: Laser therapies are procedures that use specific wavelengths of light to reduce pain, swelling and scarring. Many studies indicate that laser therapy can reduce the visibility of stretch marks by increasing the skin’s collagen production, reinstating elastin fibres, and hardening the epidermal layer. However, before undergoing this treatment, women must remember that laser therapy would probably involve repeated treatments before results are visible.
- Microdermabrasion: Dermatologists use microdermabrasion to enhance skin tone and texture. It is a minimally invasive technique to treat age spots, acne scars, wrinkles, sun damage, and other skin-related conditions.
- Micro-needling: Micro needling reduces wrinkles and scars. They use fine needles to pierce the skin. The healing of these minor injuries can rejuvenate skin. Doctors generally perform micro needling over a series of four to six sessions.
- Radiofrequency is a non-invasive procedure that utilizes radiofrequency waves to heat deeper skin layers to activate the body’s natural wound-healing process, harden the skin and stimulate collagen production.
- Topical gels or creams with hyaluronic acid: Research indicates that if women apply hyaluronic acid for early stretch marks, it can make them less visible.
- Prescription creams with tretinoin: Creams containing tretinoin may improve the appearance of stretch marks if women use them daily. They must use it early when stretch marks appear. Tretinoin is a retinoid which increases the pace of skin cell turnover and encourages collagen growth. Only the dermatologist can prescribe a tretinoin cream. Women cannot use retinoids if pregnant since they may cause congenital disabilities. They must also avoid these creams when breastfeeding since they can be absorbed into breast milk.
- Creams with cocoa butter or vitamin E: The use of these creams is widespread. Almost all creams women buy at medical stores contain one or both ingredients. Unfortunately, no large-scale study has proven these ingredients reduce women’s chances of getting stretch marks or minimize their appearance once they already have them. Women can use creams with these ingredients since they are safe during pregnancy and can keep their skin moisturized to reduce itchiness.
What other steps can women take to reduce the visibility of their stretch marks?
- Massage: Pregnant women can use moisturizing cream or oil on the stretch marks on the belly, hips, and thighs. It is vital to start moisturizing the body at the early stage of pregnancy as it takes weeks to show maximum effectiveness.
- Healthy diet matters: Healthy and nutritious food helps support the mother and the developing child. Vitamin C-rich foods promote collagen and tissue production, resulting in healthy skin and better elasticity. A vitamin D-rich diet such as fatty fish, fortified dairy, and eggs helps skin health too .
- Weight gain should be slow: As mentioned above, rapid weight gain is the main reason for stretch marks. Therefore, it is crucial to increase weight slowly. It is possible if a pregnant woman follows the general recommendation for calorie intake during a pregnancy instead of overeating for two.
Women experience a lot of physical changes in their bodies during pregnancy. Stretch marks are common since a woman’s skin stretches as the baby bump grows. Although permanent, women can reduce their visibility by consulting the doctor and treating them early.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. In what trimester do pregnant women develop stretch marks?
Women may notice stretch marks on their stomach (and other places) around the end of the second trimester into the onset of the third trimester during the sixth and seventh months of pregnancy. Sometimes, they can be visible sooner, and most pregnant women notice them as pink, red, brown or occasionally purplish streaks based on their skin colour.
2. How long does the recovery take?
The recovery for women differs since everybody heals differently. Recovery is also based on the severity of the early stretch marks and the treatment options women try. Not every treatment option works the same for all women. So, they can consult the doctor to decide on the best one.
3. Can women get rid of stretch marks after pregnancy?
Like any scar, stretch marks stay permanently, and women will not be able to make them disappear completely. However, most stretch marks disappear naturally after the baby’s birth, and women can also make them less noticeable through various treatments.