Preventing and reducing pregnancy stretch marks
Stretch marks are extremely common with up to 90% of women developing them during pregnancy. They can make a new mom feel very self-conscious. Here are some ways to help prevent stretch marks and improve their appearance.
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How do stretch marks form?

The skin’s connective tissue is continually adapting to changes in body size. However, during periods of rapid physical change, such as pregnancy, the skin sometimes has insufficient time to adjust. In these instances the body expands faster than the skin covering it, causing internal tears in the skin that heal and cause scars to form. These scars are known as stretch marks. “Contrary to what you may expect, stretch marks don’t only occur in the later stage of pregnancy,” says gynaecologist Dr Jana Roussouw. “They can start developing as early as the first trimester due to high hormone levels. However they most commonly appear in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.” 

“Stretch marks are most likely to form on the abdomen, but can also occur on the breasts, hips and thighs – any area that experiences rapid growth,” she continues.

Dermatologist Dr Moolla says anyone who has a rapid gain in weight is at risk of developing stretch marks. “There are, of course, other factors that come into play, including family history – if either parent has stretch marks then one would have a proclivity towards developing them.”

Prevention vs. treatment

Preventing stretch marks is far easier than treating them. The best defence against stretch marks is to ensure that skin maintains its maximum elasticity throughout pregnancy. This is achieved by keeping skin well hydrated and supple at all times. When it comes to treating stretch marks, they are most likely to respond when they are red or purplish in colour. Once they mature (when they become white or silvery in colour) they are far more difficult to improve.

Massage

Regular message of the affected areas helps to increase circulation and nutrient supply to the dermis, keeping the skin supple and elastic. 

Creams and oils

Use a topically applied cream or oil, such as tissue oil, which is specifically formulated to maximise the skin’s elasticity. The product should be applied to the affected area twice daily, and used throughout pregnancy. This will help your skin to remain well-hydrated and better able to stretch.  Lynne Bluff, leading childbirth educator and editor of The Expectant Mother’s Guide, says: “I actively encourage all pregnant women to use Bio-Oil daily, throughout their pregnancy. The results are outstanding and have proven themselves over many years. From the feedback I have received it is considered to be the most effective means of preventing stretch marks.” 

Diet

It is also important to eat foods that contribute to the overall health of the skin, such as those that are high in vitamins C (citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli) and E, zinc (red meats, poultry, beans, nuts and dairy products), and silica (which helps to form collagen: the stuff that keeps your skin elastic and supple).

Also make sure you drink plenty of water (at least 2 litres per day) to help your skin’s elasticity. 

“It’s important to follow a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy and not gain too much weight. We aim at a weight gain of around 12kg, bearing in mind that after 36 weeks the mother should be gaining around a kilo a week,” says Dr Roussouw.

Exercise

In addition to boosting energy levels, reducing mood swings, improving sleep patterns and enhancing one’s overall self-image, exercise can help prevent stretch marks. Exercise improves circulation, which keeps the skin elastic and more able to stretch as it grows.

This improved circulation also reduces the possibility of varicose veins and swollen ankles in pregnancy. Try doing low-impact sports such as swimming, walking and yoga.

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