Pregnancy Stretch Lines – Causes and Prevention
There is one thing that all women dread that will occur as soon as they get pregnant that are stretch marks, also called Striae Gravidarum or the marks of pregnancy.
Stretch Marks, what are they anyway and why do they occur?
The reason of those marks resides in the anatomy of the skin.
The skin has typically two layers: a thin upper layer called the epidermis, and a thicker lower layer called the dermis.
Fine protein filaments called elastin are scattered in the dermis, like a piece of rubber band, which are capable of stretching on being pulled.
Just as any rubber band can stretch only so far and no further, the elastin fibers can also be stretched only to a certain extent. If stretched further, they snap.
During pregnancy, the increasing bulk of the uterus causes the skin to stretch to a great extent and the elastin fibers are torn.
Scars on the skin are the result of torn elastin, what is called Stria Gravidarum or stretch marks.
Do they only occur on the lower abdomen of all pregnant women?
Well, yes and no. They appear on the belly of most pregnant women, but not in all and not just on the lower abdomen. Stretch marks only occur when the skin is stretched in a very short period of time, as in pregnancy or in obesity.
- In the lower abdomen in pregnant women.
- Along the sides of the breasts either in pregnancy or in obesity.
- On upper thighs.
- Even on the inner sides of the upper arms occasionally.
How can stretch marks be prevented?
Yes, to a certain extent.
Although some women are genetically prone to develop stretch marks, it has been noted that athletes and women accustomed to heavy, physical labor get very few or no stretch marks. This is regardless of whether their female relatives have stretch marks or not.
The reason for this is that that these women have very well-developed and strong abdominal muscles. These muscles can easily take the weight of the growing uterus and prevent it from pressing forwards on the skin – rather like wearing a strong muscular belt under the skin.
The skin is thus less stretched, leading to less elastin fibres damaged, and there are fewer stretch marks.
Keep in mind that a supple, healthy and well moisturized skin is capable of stretching more without any lasting damage.
Therefore if a woman can strengthen her abdominal muscles and keep her skin healthy and supple, there is less chance of her developing stretch marks.
How do I develop my muscles and keep my skin moisturized?
You can start practicing gentle exercises for your abdominal muscles as soon as your pregnancy has been confirmed or even as you started to plan your pregnancy.
There are some examples of exercises you can perform:
Exercise 1: Standing erect, raise both arms above the head. Bend forward slowly to touch your toes. Hold the position for a count of 10. Then slowly straighten up. Repeat twice. Do this exercise at least once daily.
Exercise 2: Standing erect, raise both arms above the head and clasp your hands. Now bend slowly to your left as far down as you feel comfortable. Hold for a count of 10. Straighten up slowly and then bend to your right. Hold to a count of 10. Straighten up. Exhale as you are bending and inhale while straightening up. This makes one set. Do at least 3 sets once daily.
Exercise 3: Stand straight with feet about 12 inches (30 cm) apart. Place hands on your back at the waist. Slowly bend back, as far back as you feel comfortable. Hold to a count of 10. Straighten up. Now bend forward slowly, hold the position to a count of 10. Then straighten up. Exhale as you are bending and inhale while straightening up. This makes one set. Do at least 3 sets once daily.
These three exercises will strengthen the abdominal and back muscles as well as gently stretch the skin. They also improve the posture during pregnancy.
Caring for your skin:
Keep your skin moisturized by applying oil – olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil or any good baby oil – thoroughly over the skin of the abdomen, hips and thighs. A favorite of expecting mums is Bio Oil.
Massage it in with sweeping upward strokes. You can do this before you exercise so that the oil is properly absorbed as the skin is stretched during exercise. This will make the skin supple and healthy and capable of stretching without damaging the elastin fibres.
Daily massage your abdomen during your pregnancy and up to 6 weeks after giving birth. Bio Oil can also reduce the effect of the stretch marks after they appeared on your skin.
Revise your diet :
Adjust your diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and adequate liquids.
Don’t ever forget your daily vitamins. This will ensure a healthy and supple skin.
What happens if the stretch marks have already appeared? How to get rid of them?
The good thing about stretch marks is that they fade over time eventually.
When stretch marks are first formed, they are reddish or purplish, later becoming thin silvery lines that may not be visible at first glance.
The bad thing about stretch marks is that when they are deep, they can be removed permanently only by surgery. The elastin and collagen growth can be stimulated to some extent by cocoa butter, Vitamin E, wheat germ oil, lanolin and Bio Oil.
To remove the marks completely sometimes laser surgery, blue light therapy and other surgical treatments will ultimately be the only options.
Of the many creams and lotions that are available on the market claiming to be able to remove stretch marks, most of all have yet to be medically proved.