How to Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy
If you are reading this because you recently found out you are expecting and you are hoping to prevent stretch marks during your pregnancy, I want to wish you congratulations on your pregnancy! It's very exciting!
I think we can agree that our precious babies will be worth every single stripe on our bodies. I have pretty much accepted the fact that I will probably get some stretch marks during pregnancy. But that doesn’t mean I am going to sit back and do nothing to try and at least minimise the severity of them.
This article is for all the other women who also want to try their best to prevent stretch marks from occurring and to reduce the uncomfortable itch that precedes them.
I know that my biggest days are ahead of me in the third trimester, so I will be sure to report back after August when baby is here! For now I wanted to share what’s been my strategy in avoiding those tiger stripes so far.
Free eBook: How to Have a Shorter, Less Painful Birth
Plus a 30 minute Prenatal Pilates video!
Pregnancy stretch marks, also known as striae gravidarum, are a form of scarring of the skin of the abdominal area, but also commonly occurring on the breasts, thighs, hips, lower back and buttocks. They usually form during the last trimester, when the skin must rapidly stretch.
Stretch marks appear on our skin due to tearing of the the middle layer of our skin, the dermis. The tears in the dermis allow the blood vessels below to show through, which is why stretch marks are often red or purple when they first appear. When the blood vessels eventually contract, the fat underneath your skin will be visible, and your stretch marks will change to a silvery-white colour. Over time they may diminish and become less noticeable, but will not disappear completely.
The dermis is the layer of our skin which is composed of components such as collagen (which provides strength) and elastin (which provides elasticity) and they allow our skin to stretch. Rapid stretching of our skin causes these strong, inter-connected fibres to over stretch and break/tear. As rapid skin stretching is what causes the tearing of the dermis, my approach is to try and make my dermis as elastic as possible to be able to cope with it.
Unfortunately, there really are no clinically proven ways of preventing stretch marks despite what the cosmetic companies will sell you. As the elasticity and structure of our skin is maintained by elastin and collagen, the following are how I plan to maintain the health of these particular tissues.
- Drink lots of water
Ladies, this one will be hard, especially as we are already peeing one hundred times a day already! But it essential for our health, our babies health and lastly our skin. Your body diverts a lot of what you consume to your baby first, especially water. In order for your skin to retain its elasticity and be able to stretch without scarring, staying hydrated is key. Nice plump, hydrated skin cells can withstand a lot more stretching, and the skin layers won’t tear as easily.
The volume of water each of us must drink is individual, it depends on our body weight and lifestyle. Personally, I aim to drink two litres of water each day. I carry my (glass) water bottle with me from early morning and drink herbal teas or decaf coffees (Caffeinated beverages are dehydrating.) in order to get enough. I'm not great at drinking enough water so this one is a struggle for me.
Read: Caffeine Free Herbal Teas for Pregnant Mothers
- Gain a Healthy Amount of Weight Slowly
One study of 324 women, done just after they had given birth, demonstrated that high body mass index, weight gain over 15 kg and higher neonatal birth weight were independently correlated with the occurrence and severity of striae. This means that gaining too much weight and carrying a big baby are linked to overstretching of the abdomen. Also Fetal Macrosomia (large baby 8 to 9lbs+) is more likely is you have poorly managed high blood sugar levels or gain an excessive amount of weight during pregnancy.
Avoid these by maintaining a healthy weight during your pregnancy and gain it slowly and steadily so that your skin isn't put under strain. Even though pregnant women are required to eat more calories than they were eating before, don’t fall into the ‘eating for two’ myth. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Consult your doctor or a registered dietitian if you are unsure how to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.
- Make Your Diet Skin-Nourishing
During pregnancy it is important to maintain a balanced, nutritious diet to get all the nutrients needed for our growing baby. We can also include specific whole foods which nourish our skin from the inside and improve it's elasticity.
Collagen is manufactured by specialised cells called fibroblasts. These cells are capable of incorporating amino acids into the highly distinctive strands that constitute the basic unit of the collagen molecule. Vitamin C is required to produce collagen. Hence, a deficiency of vitamin C interferes with the production of collagen.
Glycine, lysine and proline are the primary amino acids found in collagen and elastin. Glycine can be synthesised in your body from choline, a B vitamin. Similarly, proline can be produced in your cells from other amino acids. Lysine is an essential amino acid, meaning it cannot be synthesised in your body and must come from your diet.
Protein Rich Foods
A well-balanced diet supplies sufficient protein to fulfil your needs for lysine, proline, glycine and any other amino acids needed for collagen synthesis. Quality Protein Rich foods to include: Oily fish, poultry with the skin, lean red meats, eggs, cheese (particularly Parmesan), legumes such as lentils, peas, beans.
One particularly rich source of collagen itself is bone broth, which is made by boiling down the bones and skin of chicken, pork or beef etc.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
This powerful antioxidant is central to any regimen for building collagen and elastin. Women need slightly more during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Vitamin C also helps to support your immune system, so you get both beauty and health benefits from foods rich in this vitamin.
Luckily, Vitamin C is plentiful in vegetables and fruit, making it easy to get all you need. Some sources of vitamin C include: blackcurrant, red bell pepper, kale, kiwifruit, broccoli (raw or steamed), strawberry, lemon, cauliflower, grapefruit, raspberry, spinach, cabbage, lime etc
You can also apply vitamin C enriched creams or serums to the skin.
Your body needs the essential mineral copper to knit together collagen and elastin to form strong skin. Copper is found in nuts and seeds such as cashews, almonds and sunflower and sesame seeds -- as well as lentils and mushrooms.
Your body needs ample amounts of the mineral manganese to increase production of collagen and elastin, especially when healing wounds. Eat foods like pineapple, pecans and leafy greens, which are high in manganese.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 Fatty acids help to prevent inflammation and keep our cell membranes healthy. You can consume these healthy fats through oily fish such as salmon, herring and sardines and eggs, while plant-based omega-3s occur primarily in flaxseeds, walnuts and dark leafy vegetables which also contain a nutrient called lutein. Lutein helps boost skin hydration and improves elasticity.
Helps protect our skin cell membranes. The following foods are a good source: Almonds, broccoli, spinach, avocado, seeds, olive oil, trout, sweet potato.
Zinc is a vital mineral that helps produce collagen in the skin, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory abilities and thus, important to make sure you consume more of during pregnancy. You can find zinc in lentils, beans and lean meats.
You can help your body preserve and protect collagen by avoiding eating excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugar,
- Regular Exercise
Exercise helps to retain our skin’s elasticity by improving our circulation. Increased blood flow will bring nutrients to your skin cells. Additionally, it will help us avoid gaining too much weight while pregnant.
Try to do light exercise like taking a walk, swimming and prenatal Pilates. See my Prenatal Pilates Programme for some specialised pregnancy workouts to help you get rid of uncomfortable aches during pregnancy and prepare your body for childbirth.
Read: The Do’s and Don’ts of Exercising Throughout Pregnancy
- Dry Body Brushing
I try and dry brush my body at least three times per week. Dry brushing is amazing for improving the circulation in our skin. Also, it is thought that the scrubbing action stimulates the production of new elastin! Best of all, it makes any skin care product even more effective.
a good quality brush that has been made of natural fibres and has stiff bristles. Brush upwards in a circular motion, toward your heart. Try to focus on areas which are problematic for you but be careful when using the brush on your breasts and avoid your nipples as this area can be damaged with brushing. Once you are through brushing, take a bath or shower to clean the loose skin cells away.
Massage is a great way to boost circulation to your skin. Spend some time massaging your moisturiser into your skin after your shower. A good moisturiser works by creating a barrier to stop water escaping, improving the moisture levels within our skin. This is even more effective if you apply it right after your shower while your skin is still holding some of the water. A massage from your partner is a fantastic way to bond and will help you to relax, sleep better and reduce stress.
- Minimise stress
Cortisol, a stress hormone, stimulates degradation of collagen into amino acids, the elasticity of the skin is affected, hence the appearance of stretch marks when we experience periods of high stress. High cortisol also encourages hunger, which can lead to even more weight gain. Avoid stressful thoughts, skipping meals and irregular sleeping habits, all of which encourage the body to produce more cortisol. In the last weeks before birth, cortisol levels are naturally two to three times higher than normal. This is when our skin will be most vulnerable to stretch marks.
Corticosteroids such as creams or lotions used to treat skin conditions affect the skin in a similar way to the hormone cortisol.
In rare cases, stretch marks can develop after prolonged use of corticosteroids.
- Protect your Skin from the Sun
The sun’s ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin to break down collagen and elastin. This is why sun worshippers skin can look leathery and 10 years older! Sunlight can also worsen melasma, a condition in which blotchy areas of darkened skin appear during pregnancy.
To protect your skin, generously apply sunscreen daily with a broad sun protection factor (SPF) of 35 and above. Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before your skin will be exposed to the sun. Reapply the sunscreen every two hours. Also, do your best to cover up, stay in the shade and avoid the sun between 11 am to 3 pm.
- My Favourite Mama to be products:
I already used Mio products before we were trying to conceive so it was only natural to keep using them and add more from their Mama Mio range. I love these because they are cruelty free and free from chemical nasties such as parabens, mineral oil, xenoestrogens, phthalates or PEGs. My skin has never been softer!
The product I was already using was their 'Skin Tight' Tightening Body Serum. It contains hyaluronic acid (Hyaluronic acid is also a major component of skin, where it is involved in tissue repair.) and vitamin C. Two ingredients which nourish the dermis for skin elasticity. I apply this every morning after my shower. It sinks right into my skin.
When I started to see a little bump appear I ordered the Mama Mio The Tummy Rub Butter which is designed to help build your skin’s strength and elasticity. Plus I love to use rich, thick creams on my dry skin, I really enjoy massaging this into my abdomen every night. It contains some ingredients that I was looking for in a maternity moisturiser, shea butter, coconut oil and almond oil, all of which are amazing ingredients for our skin.
I ordered when they had a Valentines special and received a complimentary Pregnancy Boob Tube Bust Protection Cream. My skin there has never looked better! It absorbs a lot faster than the butter which is great when you're getting dressed straight afterwards.
When I am no longer carrying our baby, I will begin dermarolling...everywhere! Very excited to try it. Dermarolling is a cosmetic procedure in which thousands of tiny little needles are inserted into the surface of skin via a rolling device. Dermarolling works by creating microscopic wounds which induce collagen and elastin production. As the needles penetrate the skin, there is a risk of infection, that's why I am waiting until after our baby is here.
A lot of these tips, such as eating healthy diet, regular exercise and avoiding stress are things that we should be doing anyway for our good health and happiness. The extra pampering will improve the condition of your skin and make you feel amazing!
What’s been your experience with stretch marks during pregnancy? What has worked for you?
I am Emma McAtasney, founder of a boutique Pilates studio in Dundalk, Ireland. BASI trained Pilates instructor, BarreConcept instructor and prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist.
I developed my Belly Only Pregnancy Programme in order to provide a library of workouts for expecting mums to have access to throughout their pregnancy.
I love working with successful, courageous women from all over the world – like yourself – to give you clear, applicable information, support you in truly creating core strength, fall in love with your strong and healthy body and focus on living your best life!
Together, let’s create a lifestyle that gives us health and happiness for a lifetime!