As a pregnant woman’s belly grows, purple or red stretch marks may form.
Stretch marks are common during pregnancy. They affect 80 to 90 percent of pregnant women. They usually appear during the second and third trimesters, mainly on the stomach, breasts, hips, thighs, and buttocks. For some women, they can even form under the armpits, on the lower back, and on the arms.
What is a stretch mark?
A stretch mark is a scar that appears when the skin stretches too quickly. Initially, it’s raised and red, pink, purple, or brown, depending on the colour of your skin. Sometimes, stretch marks can feel itchy. This sensation is caused by the thinning of the skin.
Stretch marks are usually permanent. However, they can fade and become less noticeable over time.
What causes stretch marks?
Stretch marks are a result of the rapid growth that occurs during pregnancy. Certain skin layers can be damaged by the tension created when the skin is stretched. This causes a breakdown of collagen and elastin, two fibrous proteins that support the skin.
Certain factors can increase your risk of developing stretch marks. For example, genetics play an important role. If your mother or sister had stretch marks, chances are you’ll get them too. High levels of cortisol and pregnancy hormones may also increase the likelihood of getting stretch marks. Age can be a factor as well, since skin loses its elasticity over time.
Finally, some experts believe that gaining too much weight during pregnancy can make you more prone to stretch marks. However, this idea is controversial since some women gain very little weight during pregnancy and still develop stretch marks.
Can stretch marks be prevented?
Nothing can be done to prevent stretch marks. Research indicates that home remedies are not effective. Studies on the use of almond oil, cocoa butter, olive oil, and vitamin E have shown that these ingredients don’t reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
This is because stretch marks form when a deep layer of the skin is stretched due to changes in the body. The act of massaging a cream into the skin may slightly curb the development of stretch marks, but the product itself has no effect.
There are certain medications for treating stretch marks. However, many of them contain retinol, which can be harmful to the baby. Before you use any products to treat stretch marks, make sure to discuss them with your doctor or midwife first.
Things to keep in mind
Stretch marks are common during pregnancy.
They’re caused by the rapid stretching of the skin.
Creams to prevent stretch marks are not effective.
Scientific review: Roxanne Piché, nursing adviser, Maternal Fetal Medicine Clinic, CHU Sainte-Justine
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: April 2021
Photo: 123rf/Kelly Kane
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American Academy of Dermatology. “Stretch marks: Why they appear and how to get rid of them.” www.aad.org
Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
Healthwise. “Pregnancy: Stretch marks, itching, and skin changes.” www.healthlinkbc.ca
Mayo Clinic. “Stretch marks.” www.mayoclinic.org
NHS. “Stretch marks in pregnancy.” www.nhs.uk
Regan, Lesley. Votre grossesse au jour le jour. 2nd ed., Hurtubise, 2010.