The facts on stretch marks
Pregnancy can bring many unexpected bodily changes. I was lucky enough not to get any stretch marks with my first baby, but the second time around I noticed red to purplish streaks forming on my belly. The difference, I believe, was due to 2 main factors. First, I simply felt that I did not have the time (or energy!) available to use my stretch mark prevention creams twice a day or take my nutritional supplements daily like I did with my first. I did wear my pregnancy belly suppport belt, but perhaps I should have started wearing it sooner. Secondly, I put on a lot more weight with my boy. He weighed nearly 11 pounds at birth!
Stretch marks are most common on belly and breasts, but they can also appear on your thighs or hips. Sometimes they are caused by very rapid weight gain (or loss), sometimes due to hormonal factors and often times due to nutritional deficiencies. Most commonly deficiencies of Vitamin A, C, E and Zinc. These nutrients can easily be obtained with a good Pregnancy Multi. Silica and Omega 3‘s also play a vital role in maintaining skin integrity and allowing the skin to stretch.
Even though many woman develop stretch marks, photographs of pregnant women in the media typically present images of women whose skin is blemish-free. This can be disheartening to those who do get stretch marks.
What are stretch marks?
Stretch marks are formed when the tissue underneath the top layers of skin expands at a faster rate than the skin above it. There is a huge variation in the length, width and depth of these marks when they form. The scars may be a red or purple colour, and they will fade to a pale silvery colour over time. Some stretch marks may be silvery from the start. They can appear anywhere on the body.
Who gets them?
Anyone can get stretch marks, but they are most commonly associated with hormonal changes together with rapid weight gain or loss. If your mother or sister developed stretch marks during pregnancy, it does increase your chances of developing them as well. Some women start noticing them as early as the first trimester.
What can I do to prevent stretch marks from appearing? (hint: do not do what I did the 2nd time round!)
- Try to avoid putting on excess weight rapidly. Follow a healthy active lifestyle.
- Maintain a healthy diet to support skin elasticity. Eating well during pregnancy is of course extremely important. Pregnancy is not a time for a restricted diet, and dieting will not mean that you avoid stretch marks. Support your body and skin with a natural diet high in antioxidants and be sure to include healthy fats. Think nuts, avocado and oily fish (salmon & avocado bagel, YUM!)
- Drink lots of water to help your skin stay moisturised.
- Exercise during pregnancy is beneficial for the skin and good for you in general. Before you start any new exercise program in pregnancy it is a good idea to consult your LMC.
- Lightly brushing your skin with a loofah can stimulate blood flow.
- A supportive maternity bra is a must and will help minimise stretching of breast tissue.
- VERY IMPORTANT: Massage stretch mark prone areas with stretch mark prevention creams twice daily. There are several studies indicating that massaging skin from early on in pregnancy can help prevent stretch marks appearing. Take a Pregnancy Multi! Be sure to start wearing a pregnancy belly support belt early on to prevent dragging on the skin.
Creams, Potions & Supplements
There are many different creams and oils that may help to prevent or treat stretch marks. These include olive oil, aloe vera, cocoa butter, shea butter, rose hip oil, vitamin E, Vitamin A (sometimes found in retin A, this type is not to be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding) and Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica).
Lavender and Mandarin oils are two favourite aromatherapeutic solutions for healthy, beautiful blemish free skin. Lavender will also calm and reduce red, itchy skin. Have a look in our Stretch Mark Solution section for natural options. Rest assured that our products are safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding unless otherwise stated.
The skin on the belly area can become itchy during pregnancy and massage with stretch mark creams and oils may help with this.
Taking a Pregnancy Multivitamin & Omega 3 supplement daily can help supplement your diet. If you are lacking in Vitamin A, Zinc, silica or Omega 3‘s you may be more susceptible to developing stretch marks. Omega 3 Oils are not just good for your baby’s developing brain, it can also protect the integrity of your skin and moisturise you from the inside out. Always consult your LMC before taking any supplements.
What can be done to reduce their appearance?
Early treatment of stretch marks shows better results than leaving them until they are years old.
Gotu Kola creams has shown some benefits in scar reduction. Vitamin A is also useful, but certain types must not be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Ensure that the cream you use is labelled safe if you are still pregnant or breastfeeding.
Deficiency of zinc has also been associated with the development of stretch marks. If you develop stretch marks easily, you may be deficient in the mineral zinc which is essential for skin repair. New Zealand soils are low in Zinc and other minerals so taking a Pregnancy Multivitamin is a great idea. Signs of zinc deficiency include white spots on nails and frequent infections, such as urinary tract infections. Zinc has also been shown to support an easier labour by reducing the duration of labour and increasing your ability to stretch. A good zinc status at birth has been shown to have a protective effect on post-partum depression.
Laser treatment and other specialised skin treatments are available, but the reviews on effectiveness is mixed.
General fitness and exercising the tummy area can help the tummy to become more toned and this can reduce the indented look of stretch marks. Pregnancy changes our breasts too. Breasts may be smaller, less firm or larger than before. Others find that their breasts slowly regain fat and roundness, with stretch marks becoming barely noticeable.
Give yourself time. Many women find that in a year or two their bodies start feeling and looking more “normal” again. Stretch marks do fade considerably with time, especially if you look after yourself by following a good diet, taking a good multi, doing regular exercise and using natural protective stretch mark remedies.