If you’re preggers, you may have noticed a rather distinct line across your belly. Nope, that’s not your skin splitting as bub gets bigger. It’s actually a linea nigra, a dark vertical line that many women get during pregnancy.
Understandably, you’ve probably got a tonne of questions about what a linea nigra actually is, how it got there, when it crops up in pregnancy and whether it’ll disappear.
We’ve got you. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is a linea nigra?
Meaning ‘black line’ in Latin, the linea nigra is a darkened line that runs vertically down your pregnant belly. The linea nigra generally goes from your belly button to your pubic bone, but sometimes it extends up towards your ribcage.
Depending on your skin tone and the intensity of the line, the linea nigra can range from a very light brown to almost black. It’s usually about one centimetre wide and stays the same width across its length. It can also get darker and wider throughout your pregnancy .
The linea nigra is commonly referred to as a pregnancy line because it tends to appear when you’re expecting. In fact, one study found that pregnant women were 60 times more likely to have a linea nigra than those who weren’t pregnant . However, men, children, newborn babies and non-pregnant people can get a linea nigra too.
No one’s really sure about the purpose of the linea nigra, although there is a (thus far unproven) theory that it helps the newborn baby find your breasts to feed.
What causes linea nigra to form during pregnancy?
You’ve actually always got a line running down your belly, but it’s so pale that you can’t see it. This line is referred to as a linea alba (‘white line’ in Latin) and then switches to a linea nigra once it becomes more prominent .
So, what causes it to go from being a linea alba to a linea nigra? It’s all to do with pregnancy hormones.
During pregnancy, you experience huge hormonal changes. Rising oestrogen levels lead to increased melanin production, which gives your skin its pigment. When your body produces too much melanin, it results in hyperpigmentation. The linea nigra is actually a type of hyperpigmentation, much like a freckle or age spots.
Many women get hyperpigmentation while they’re pregnant. This is why, along with a pregnancy line, you might notice darker nipples, areolas and scars, and melasma (darker patches of skin) on your face .
Does everyone get a linea nigra?
Not everyone, but most pregnant women get a dark line on their tummy — up to 92%, according to one study .
Although, it typically appears in those with darker skin . Fair-skinned women may have a much lighter line or no line at all. Some women may also get a linea nigra in one pregnancy and not in another, or subsequent pregnancy lines may be lighter, darker, narrower or wider.
Know that it really doesn’t matter if you get a pregnancy line or not, and the line isn’t dangerous to you or your unborn bub. Its only drawback is that some people don’t love its appearance.
What week of pregnancy does linea nigra appear?
Because your oestrogen levels rise as your pregnancy develops, the linea nigra tends to appear sometime in the second trimester — roughly around the 20-week mark.
It can also surface in the first trimester  and, like other forms of pigmentation, be an initial sign of pregnancy . If you’ve got a linea nigra in early pregnancy, you might also notice darker areolas and melasma.
Why do I have linea nigra and I'm not pregnant?
Hold up, hold up. What if you’ve got a linea nigra and you’re not pregnant? As we know, the linea nigra can crop up on anyone. Most of the time, the reason is to do with hormonal changes that, like pregnancy, stimulate the production of melanin.
Conditions that can cause these hormonal changes and a linea nigra include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), Addison’s disease (where the body doesn’t produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone) and Cushing’s disease (where the body produces too much cortisol).
Going through puberty or menopause, as well as using the contraceptive pill, can result in a linea nigra as they generate similar hormonal changes. Excessive sun exposure can also lead to hyperpigmentation, including the linea nigra.
Linea nigra can crop up in men, too. One study found that 80% of men aged 50+ who’d had an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer had a linea nigra .
It’s also worth noting that, just like in pregnancy, a linea nigra when you’re not expecting is purely aesthetic and not cause for concern.
Can I avoid getting a pregnancy line on my stomach?
Unfortunately, it’s a no on that one! The linea nigra can’t be avoided, as it’s a totally natural part of pregnancy.
However, it may very well fade on its own — or with a bit of a helping hand from you — after bub is born.
When does the linea nigra go away?
The linea nigra doesn’t fade until after your baby arrives. This is because, post-delivery, your hormone levels usually return to normal.
It can take a few weeks or months for your pregnancy line to start fading, and in many cases, it won’t go away completely. Some women might also experience noticeable hyperpigmentation, like the linea nigra, well after pregnancy or with following pregnancies .
Can I get rid of the linea nigra?
Because the linea nigra is linked to hormonal fluctuations, there’s not a whole lot you can do to get rid of it totally. That being said, you may be able to reduce its appearance. Here’s how.
Increase your folic acid intake
Interestingly, there’s a hypothesis that folic acid (or folate) can help lessen a linea nigra . Upping your intake of folate-rich foods, like wholemeal bread, leafy green veggies, beans, eggs and oranges, may just help reduce the pigmentation associated with a pregnancy line .
Be sun smart
We all know there’s a strong link between sun exposure and hyperpigmentation. In fact, it’s the main reason why hyperpigmentation occurs. UV rays from the sun increase the production of melanin in your skin, which leads to all kinds of skin discolouration.
Staying out of the sun — especially keeping your belly protected — may prevent the line from getting darker. That means wearing a loose shirt over your swimmers at the beach, sticking to shaded areas and always, always using sunscreen that’s at least SPF30, even on your belly .
If you’ve got other forms of pregnancy hyperpigmentation like melasma, being sun smart can help prevent those from getting worse, too.
Cover it up
If you’re not particularly keen on the appearance of your linea nigra, you can try covering it up with makeup. A cover stick or foundation usually does the trick.
Steer clear of bleaching creams
A quick note on bleaching creams. While they may seem like a great choice for getting rid of your linea nigra, results have actually been found to be quite mixed .
Bleaching creams can also be harsh on your skin and often contain an ingredient called hydroquinone, a topical skin-lightening agent. It’s not clear whether hydroquinone is safe during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, so it’s best avoided during both .
If you do want to give bleaching cream a go, wait till after bub is born and you’ve either stopped breastfeeding or are bottle-feeding.
Keep your skin supple
Outside of addressing your linea nigra, the skin across your belly (and the rest of your bod) will need lots of TLC once you’ve given birth.
Your skin may be dry and itchy and might have a few stretch marks. Ensure you keep it soft, supple and supported by using a good moisturiser, like Kin’s Nourishing Cream, which is formulated with gotu kola, witch hazel, shea butter and vitamins B3, B5, E and F to promote skin elasticity, relieve itchiness and reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
When it comes to postpartum recovery, our Postpartum Recovery Kit is your best friend. Containing our luxe Nourishing Cream, Postnatal Vitamins (with folate!), Soothing Padsicles and more, you’ll have everything you need to rest and recover.
Photo credit: Getty Images