Practical advice for new parents

Pregnancy Stretch Marks

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One of the most common and annoying side effects of pregnancy is the development of stretch marks. These unsightly 'badges of motherhood' often first appear in the last trimester and affect up to 90 percent of all pregnant women.

Caused by rapid growth, stretch marks usually occur on the lower abdomen but can also develop on the thighs, breasts, arms, and lower back. As the skin is stretched, its elastic supportive tissue can break down and create the scarring that becomes stretch marks. The lines start out red, pink, purple or brown depending on skin color and do eventually fade. Unfortunately, they never completely disappear.

It's difficult to predict whether or not a woman will get stretch marks. However, the predisposition to acquire them seems to run in families. Thus, if your mother or sister had them during pregnancy, you're more likely to get them too. Stretch marks are slightly less common in women of color.

While there is no one way to ensure that you won't develop stretch marks during pregnancy, there are ways to reduce their appearance. Primarily, it's important to keep your weight gain gradual and within the suggested healthy range. Most doctors agree that a woman should gain no more than 25 to 35 lbs. during a normal single birth pregnancy. With sudden or excessive weight gain, your skin will not have enough time to stretch, and more noticeable stretch marks will be the end result. As well, staying well-hydrated will keep your skin healthier and more pliable to accommodate a growing baby.

A browse through the top seller list at Amazon for stretch mark creams shows there are a multitude of products that are marketed to pregnant women that promise to prevent stretch marks. The reality is that stretch marks develop below the skin's surface in the dermis, so no cream or oil on its own is likely going to stop completely what is destined to happen during the course of a pregnancy. However, if you are experiencing tingling and itching along with the stretch marks, using a good moisturizer or cream will help with these symptoms.

Once you have your baby, you can expect that the lines will fade to a shade of silver or white. Many women consider stretch marks as reminders of the miracle of birth and are proud of them. Others think that they are unsightly, and there are a growing number of treatments available to remove or minimize them.  Both plastic surgeons and dermatologists can suggest options. Dermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser surgery are all popular treatments that can have varying degrees of success.