I was overjoyed when I found out I was pregnant, but I must confess that I had some "vain" concerns about how my body would change. Chief among them: stretch marks.
More than 90 percent of women get stretch marks while pregnant, according to Dr. Alyssa R. Golas, a plastic surgeon at NYU Langone Health.
"While some women only develop a few stretch marks on their lower abdomen, many women find that they have stretch marks virtually all over the abdominal wall by the time the nine months is over," she told me. In addition to the stomach, it's common to get these stripes on your breasts, hips, butt, and outer thighs.
Like nausea and growing feet, stretch marks are one of those physical changes women experience while growing another human life for 40 weeks. As my pregnancy progressed, I accepted the possibility and realized they were nothing to be scared of — in fact, I should look at them as a reminder of what my body can do. But let's be real: I also wanted to understand what causes them and how I might be able to minimize them. Here's what I learned:
Likely Causes of Pregnancy Stretch Marks:
Rapid Weight Gain
Putting on weight quickly is thought to be a direct contributor to stretch marks, Golas explained to me. "One theory is that when the skin is stretched very quickly, the strength layer of the skin (the dermis) fragments, which leads to stretch marks." Considering that a woman with a healthy BMI might gain between 25 to 35 pounds over the course of a pregnancy, it's hard for our skin to keep up.
If you got stretch marks during puberty, but not during other times of weight gain, Golas said hormones could be a contributing factor — and not the weight. Since pregnancy is a time of hormonal changes, you might expect them again.
Some lucky women never get stretch marks, despite changes in weight or hormones. Golas said that's a sign that genetics play a role. Genetics could also explain why some women get deeper "tiger stripe" marks, while others see more subtle signs of stretching.
What You Can Do:
Use safe moisturizing products like almond oil:
"There is some evidence that keeping the skin well-moisturized and supple can help."
If you're not one of the lucky few blessed with "good" genetics, here's welcome news from Golas: "There is some evidence that keeping the skin well-moisturized and supple can help." She cautioned that while there are many products that claim to prevent stretch marks, few have proven effective.
Golas suggested using natural options, like almond oil. "It has a pleasing mild scent and is well-absorbed by the skin," she described. Almond oil also doesn't come with any potentially harmful chemicals you'll want to avoid during pregnancy. I opt for Viva Naturals Sweet Almond Oil available on Amazon for $12.
Talk to your doctor about a healthy weight gain:
While extra weight is needed to support your growing baby, a slow and steady trajectory could help your skin adjust. Talk to your doctor about how much weight you should gain each week (it may be around one pound per week starting in the second trimester). As long as you're healthy, don't stress too much about it.
Pregnancy stretch marks are reminder of your body's power to create a new life. Wear them with pride. There's also a good chance that you won't notice them soon after you have the baby. "The majority of stretch marks fade over time," Golas said. "They typically start as a deep purplish-red, but eventually become lighter and lighter, until all that is left is a pale, zigzagged stripe." Think of it as a free tattoo to commemorate your body's accomplishment.
Golas also noted that laser therapy in a plastic surgeon or dermatologist's office can reduce the red color, and chemical peels or prescription creams containing retinoids have also been shown to improve their appearance. So rest assured that there are options out there, and in the meantime celebrate what you're capable of.