Pregnancy stretch marks are a natural result of your skin stretching to make room for your developing baby and uterus. Not everyone gets them, but if they do accompany your pregnancy, stretch marks tend to fade over time. Either way, they’re a reminder of your sweet baby and a badge of honor for all the work of being pregnant! Read on to learn all about pregnancy stretch marks, including why they’re a natural part of pregnancy and what you can do to soothe your skin as it stretches and supports your little one.

What Is Pregnancy Stretch Marks?

Pregnancy stretch marks (also called striae) are natural, with more than 50 percent of pregnant bodies experiencing them. Stretch marks are not exclusive to pregnancy, however; men and women, whether pregnant or not, can develop these markings whenever the skin stretches rapidly. These streaky indentations in the skin can be pink, red, purple, or brown, depending on an individual’s skin color.

During pregnancy, stretch marks can appear on your stomach, breasts, buttocks, thighs and upper legs, hips, and arms. As stretch marks fade, they may change colors, appearing silvery or white, or even darkening.

When Do Stretch Marks Appear in Pregnancy?

When should you expect to see stretch marks during pregnancy? Every pregnancy and body is different, but stretch marks are most likely to appear sometime in the second half of your pregnancy. At this point, your baby bump starts to grow bigger and more quickly, putting further stress on the skin.

Some parents-to-be will start to see these markings in the second trimester, whereas others may not notice them until the last few weeks of the third trimester. And remember, some don’t experience stretch marks at all!

Why Do You Get Stretch Marks During Pregnancy and What Are They Caused By?

Simply put, stretch marks may appear on your pregnant belly and body because your skin stretches to make room for your developing baby. The stress on your skin can cause these marks, which are not harmful. Contrary to popular belief, these streaks aren’t usually a result of normal pregnancy weight gain, but rather your skin stretching while hormone levels shift. Of course, weight gain can also cause the skin to stretch, but even those who gain a minimal or modest amount of weight during pregnancy may experience stretch marks.

There are two main factors that can impact pregnancy stretch marks:

  • Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy contribute to the development of stretch marks. During pregnancy, your adrenal glands produce the hormone cortisol. As cortisol levels naturally increase, the elastic fibers in your skin weaken, and as your skin stretches, it results in pregnancy stretch marks.
  • Genetics are also a factor in whether you get stretch marks during pregnancy. If you experienced stretch marks at a younger age, such as with a growth spurt that stretched your skin during puberty, or your family members have them, it’s more likely that you’ll get those red, purple, pink, or brown streaks during pregnancy, too.

How Common Are Pregnancy Stretch Marks?

As mentioned above, more than half of pregnant people develop stretch marks, meaning there's a decent chance of having no pregnancy stretch marks. Likewise, it’s also possible to experience minimal pregnancy stretch marks on your stomach, breasts, thighs, or other parts of your body.

Regardless, there are a few risk factors concerning pregnancy stretch marks:

  • Being pregnant at a younger age
  • Rapidly gaining weight during pregnancy
  • Using corticosteroids during pregnancy
  • Having certain genetic disorders (Cushing's syndrome or Marfan syndrome).

If you fall into any of the categories above, you have a higher risk of developing pregnancy stretch marks. 

How to “Prevent” Stretch Marks During Pregnancy

Many people want to know how to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy, but unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to avoid them altogether. Stretch marks develop deep within your skin, specifically in connective tissues, so you can't prevent them from occurring with any topical or external treatment. Plus, because hormones and genetics are involved, stretch marks are pretty much out of your control.

However, some strategies could help reduce the risk of getting stretch marks and/or minimize their appearance. The key is to take these measures before your belly expands and keep them going throughout your pregnancy.

  • Use lotion or cream daily to keep your skin moisturized. This tactic can also help relieve itchy skin during pregnancy, whether you have stretch marks or not.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, which may help keep your skin soft and less prone to stretch marks.
  • Avoid caffeine during pregnancy, which can increase your risk of developing stretch marks.
  • Maintain a healthy pregnancy diet with adequate nutrients. Eating a balanced diet rich in zinc, protein, and vitamins A, C, and D can help promote healthy skin.

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