Striae Gravidarum What the? Yep that is the medical term for stretch marks in pregnancy. I was not at all worried about these as I thought, well I can’t do anything about the - it's all genetic. But then I thought I’d have a squiz at the research and delve in a bit further.
Stretch marks are extremely common in pregnancy, and also in adolescene where growth spurts can induce stretch marks. Stretch marks are harmless but they can cause emotional distress to the sufferers, and as a dermatologist I get asked often what pregnant women can do to prevent stretch marks.
WHAT ACTUALLY ARE STRETCH MARKS?
Example of stretch marks
Stretch marks are damage to the dermal collagen. The stretch marks start red mostly (Striae Rubrae) and with time become white (striae albae). In pregnancy stretch marks usually occur from the 24th week of gestation.
43-88% of pregnant women will get stretch marks in pregnancy. Women commonly get them on the breasts and abdomen in pregnancy.
WHAT CAUSES STRETCH MARKS IN PREGNANCY?
There is finally some good news for mothers of ‘advanced maternal age’ (urgh! I hate that term, I am definitely in the category of a geriatric pregnancy, and I don’t feel that old!)
Younger maternal age has been associated with increased frequency of stretch marks! A family history of pregnancy induced stretch marks also be a risk factor. Pregnant women who put on significant weight or have a big baby may also be more likely to develop stretch marks.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT STRETCH MARKS IN PREGNANCY?
Sadly there are not many good controlled studies showing that any creams or lotions prevent stretch marks during pregnancy. There are however many studies showing the effectiveness of treatment to stretch marks once they are there! We will come back to that in another blog ;)
One study looked at pregnant women massaging a silicone gel. This improved the stretch marks, but the stretch marks improved in the placebo group too! The common theme was massage – so probably massage works to prevent stretch marks in pregnancy and it doesn’t cost you anything!
I then read another two decent articles on the use of a silicone gel that seemed to make sense and reckoned they showed a 30% rate of stretch mark development in pregnancy as opposed to 60% in the placebo group. So I figured I would give it a go!
What DOES NOT work (according to the studies) for stretch marks?
What DOES / might work to reduce the severity of stretch marks?
- Silicone Gel
- Having a small baby with no family history
- being an older mum
So, I have been using a silicone gel since about 28 weeks and - fingers crossed - so far so good at 36 weeks…will keep you posted!
Early signs of stretch marks
Stretch marks most commonly begin to appear at the start of the third trimester. Most people are showing well and truly by then so the skin starts to thin out. The most common symptom that women seem to notice is the itchiness that can drive you crazy! If you are feeling this then it might be a sign that stretch marks are on the horizon.
Keeping the skin moisturized most likely won’t prevent them from appearing, but it can help settle the urge to scratch.
Tip: Keeping your moisturizer cool adds an additional relief as well.
Some people may experience stretch marks on their body that can be either indented or just appear on the surface. These streaks can be any color, but are usually pink, red, black, blue or purple. In some cases, the streaks may be brighter in color and then fade to a lighter hue.
If you want to know if you are at an increased likelihood of stretch marks, see if you have any known risk factors. These can include things like being pregnant young, or going through big changes in weight. Other times, it can be due to certain connective tissue disorders that affect how elastic the skin is.
While stretch marks are completely harmless, they can negatively impact your life if they bother you. Unfortunately, the natural treatment for them is time. In most cases, stretch marks will gradually fade into paler scars after you have your baby. However, they may not disappear completely.
Pregnancy stretch marks myths
Many of us grew up with myths surrounding stretch marks in pregnancy. I know that before I did research in this area, I assumed these were all facts. I’ve listed a few below in the hopes that we can debunk these myths.
First myth: Cocoa butter and vitamin E creams stop you from getting stretch marks or cure them completely. This claim is great for marketing and sales but sadly doesn’t have any evidence to suggest this is the case.
Second myth: Stretch marks are only caused by skin stretching. There are many factors that increase risk of stretch marks such as medical conditions, hormonal changes, medications, weight changes and genetics. The majority of women have stretched skin in pregnancy but not everyone gets stretch marks.
Third myth: Stretch marks will heal overtime of disappear if weight is lost. They will fade but scarring doesn’t disappear (it can however be much less noticeable). A lot of the time if weight is lost this can make stretch marks more prominent.
Fourth myth: If you want to hide them, spray tanning will cover them up. Often this can actually highlight them as the rest of your skin gets darker, you can never completely even out the skin tone.
Fifth and final myth: You can’t do anything about stretch marks once you have them. Simply false. There are a variety of safe practices offered in dermatologist clinics that can improve the appearance of stretch marks for women. If they are affecting your confidence in your daily life then it may be something to look into.
Some stretch mark FAQs I get asked
Do stretch marks go away post pregnancy?
Although you may never be able to get rid of them completely, there are some things you can do to help reduce the appearance of stretch marks after pregnancy. There are also a number of treatments available from dermatologists, such as laser therapy, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels.
Are stretch marks genetic?
Yes, they can be. If your mother had stretch marks caused by pregnancy, you are more likely to experience them yourself.
What do the start of stretch marks look like?
They start off as fine streaks that are usually pink, red, black, blue or purple. In some cases, the streaks may be brighter in color. They can change colour as they grow and fade.
Can you get stretch marks in the first trimester?
Yes, it is always possible to get stretch marks at any point in your pregnancy, although not as common.
When do stretch marks appear in pregnancy?
They usually appear in the third trimester. Around 6-7 months into the pregnancy. Some people may get them earlier if they are susceptible to them, are pregnant with multiples or have a well grown baby on board.
How can I treat stretch marks during pregnancy?
There are two main treatment options to help reduce stretch marks in pregnancy. Massage and silicone gel both have some evidence to suggest they can minimize them.
What does stretch marks mean during pregnancy?
Stretch marks happen when the middle layer of skin (dermis) is stretched and broken. This is more likely to happen in pregnancy due to hormonal changes and rapid growth and weight gain.
Why don't I have stretch marks during pregnancy?
Some people are just not prone to getting stretch marks. Everyone has different skin elasticity, and genetics, and every baby is also different. Some women don’t get stretch marks with their first pregnancy but then for the next pregnancy they do. It is very dependent on your history and other contributing factors.
Does everyone get stretch marks while pregnant?
No, women don’t always get stretch marks when pregnant. It is not known why some get them and others don’t.