Stretch marks are a common occurrence that plagues many pregnant ladies. They can appear on the torso, legs, and buttocks. Although they do not represent a health risk, they can be uncomfortable as they may itch. Perhaps the worst aspect is of course, from the cosmetic viewpoint!
Why do they form?
Stretch marks that occur during pregnancy (or striae gravidarum) are caused by the physical stretching of the skin. Although our skin is elastic and can expand/contract, during periods of sudden weight gain, the skin does not have enough time to adjust. If the body expands faster than the skin can, it will tear the skin thus leaving a scar, or stretch mark.
Did you know?
Stretch marks are not exclusive to pregnant women; anyone who experiences sudden weight gain can suffer from stretch marks, e.g. during puberty, medical conditions such as Marfan Syndrome or Cushing’s Syndrome, or prolonged use of corticosteroid creams/lotions. For instance, male athletes who suddenly bulk up as a result of weight training can suffer from stretch marks.
Stretch marks typically become visible around the third trimester of pregnancy. They may start off as pinkish lines or marks on your skin and it may feel itchy. The stretch marks will gradually ‘grow’ longer and wider, and their colour may become redder or more purple. As it ‘matures’, the colour begins fading into a pale white or silver colour.
Stretch marks generally appear on the abdomen or parts of the body where a lot of body fat is stored such as the breasts, thighs, hips, lower back and buttocks. While it is not possible to prevent stretch marks, there are steps you can take to minimise their effect. One of the most effective is by applying skin care products that help maximize skin elasticity, thus ensuring it remains supple and well-hydrated.
Preventing stretch marks
The best thing you can do is to focus your efforts on preventing stretch marks as much as possible. You should focus on prevention as the scars caused by stretch marks cannot be healed – they can be reduced, but you may never be able to completely get rid of them.
Some of the factors that influence the severity of stretch marks include the pregnant mom’s age, her weight gain during pregnancy, her baby’s birth weight, family history of stretch marks, and also the gestational age at delivery. While many of these factors are beyond your control, there are two main factors which you do have a say over, namely:
- Avoid excessive weight gain: make sure you consult with your doctor to find out what is the healthy range of weight gain you should be aiming for during your pregnancy. The old adage of ‘eating for two’ will not serve you well as it could lead to gaining too much weight. This would, in turn, mean a much higher risk, both in terms of quantity and severity, of stretch marks.
- Take care of yourself: By taking good care of your overall health, you will also be taking care of your skin. Some fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants which will help you maintain healthy skin. Do remember to keep yourself well-hydrated at all times too by drinking at least eight glasses of water a day.
Stretch marks normally become less noticeable as you start to lose the extra weight that was gained during pregnancy as your skin will gradually shrink back to normal. Nutrition and exercise are important, so be sure to consult with your doctor on the foods you should take and what types of exercise are suitable.
Stretch marks: not the end of the world
Remember, stretch marks represent no danger to your physical health. However, depending on its severity, some people may find stretch marks to be a major concern as it could cause emotional and psychological distress. While there are several options available that claim to be effective, there is little evidence that they work as advertised.
The most helpful thing is to have a supportive partner who will be there for you, who is willing to lend you an ear when you need to rant and rave, who will be there to console you and lift your spirits when you need it, and above all, provide you with the love and attention that you need.
An educational collaboration with Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia.