Pregnancy comes with many expected and unexpected side effects (excessive drooling, anyone?) but one of the most common is stretch marks. Chiefly, stretch marks across your belly as your baby gets bigger and bigger over the course of nine months.
You may be super proud of your stretch marks. Or, you might not be so pleased with their sudden arrival – which is also a totally normal and understandable response.
If you’re curious about stretch marks – including what causes them, whether you can avoid them, and how you can reduce their appearance once bub enters the world – here’s absolutely everything you need to know.
What causes stretch marks during pregnancy?
Put simply, stretch marks happen when your skin stretches beyond its usual limit. The middle layer of your skin (known as the ‘dermis’) expands significantly, resulting in teeny tissue tears – these are the pinkish, reddish, brownish, or purplish streaks you see across your growing body.
In pregnancy, stretch marks usually crop up on your belly, but you may also notice them on your breasts, upper thighs, hips, and bum. They're often accompanied by itchy skin.
The reason stretch marks happen during pregnancy is much the same as why they occur during puberty. When your body is maturing and growing quickly during adolescence, areas like your hips, thighs, breasts, chest, and abdomen can get overstretched and develop stretch marks.
Signs you might experience stretch marks during pregnancy
There’s a number of factors that can determine whether you’ll get stretch marks.
Genetics is a big one. Often these kinds of things are passed down, so if your mum or grandma got them during pregnancy, you might very well get stretch marks, too. Plus, your skin type is often inherited from your parents. Some people naturally have more elastic skin, which tends to cope a little better with all that stretching.
Your age can also impact the potential for stretch marks. Younger skin tends to be tauter and more prone to stretch marks. Mature skin is less firm and more able to accommodate a growing belly.
As well, whether or not you got stretch marks during puberty can influence the probability of gaining them during pregnancy.
Another consideration that can determine the likelihood of getting stretch marks is the amount of weight you gain while pregnant, as well as how rapidly you gain it. If you put on weight in a short amount of time, your skin is more likely to develop stretch marks.
A quick note on pregnancy weight gain: it’s completely normal, and something most women experience in pregnancy. The majority of pregnant women put on between 10 and 12.5 kilograms, but how much weight you put on can vary and also depends on your pre-pregnancy weight.
Your doctor and/or midwife will track your weight during pregnancy and provide advice if it’s ever a concern.
Which month of pregnancy do stretch marks appear?
Most of the time, stretch marks appear a little later in pregnancy – usually around the end of the second trimester or early in the third.
That is, about six to seven months in. This kind of makes sense, given it’s when your bump really starts to shoot out.
In saying that, though, the time they appear differs between women – just like many other pregnancy symptoms.
Some may get them earlier, but others may not notice stretch marks until the last few weeks of pregnancy.
Can you avoid stretch marks during pregnancy?
Stretch marks may be inevitable. Things like genetics, skin type, and other factors that contribute to their development are usually tricky to get around.
Whether or not you decide to try and prevent, or even treat, stretch marks is entirely up to you. Like anything else in pregnancy, what you do and don’t do is very personal – so never feel pressured to look a particular way or do certain things.
Having said that, if you’re keen to prevent stretch marks, there are a few things you can try to fend them off.
How to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy
Without further ado, here’s a trimester-by-trimester guide to lessening the likelihood of stretch marks in pregnancy.
Tips to prevent stretch marks in the first trimester
During the first trimester, your baby is still very small – usually only the size of a plum by week 12! This means you probably won’t be showing yet, so you’re unlikely to see stretch marks across your belly.
But it’s never too early to start preparing for their possible arrival. Like many things, preventing stretch marks is always easier than curing them.
You can apply topical treatments like a decent moisturiser, stretch mark cream or stretch mark oil across the areas that stretch marks often show up, such as your belly, thighs, hips, and breasts. The more hydrated your skin, the more elastic it’ll be – and the lower the chance of developing stretch marks.
You can also lay the groundwork for steering clear of rapid weight gain. Easy ways to do so include:
- Maintaining a healthy diet. Sticking to balanced meals that contain the right amount of protein, complex carbs, and good fat, along with healthy snacks, can help keep rapid weight gain at bay. Note that in your first trimester, you don’t need to consume any extra food to support your baby – reserve that for the second and third trimesters
- Managing pregnancy cravings. Some days, especially when you’re dealing with morning sickness, you’ll just want a big bowl of cheesy pasta and a block of chocolate – and that’s totally okay. But try to keep your intake of these foods to once a week rather than once a day. You can also go for smaller portions (such as a fun-sized block) or substitute with healthier versions (such as an iced drink made with raw cacao)
- Drinking lots of water. Drinking enough water is a must during pregnancy. Not only does it allow you and bub to stay properly hydrated and help prevent UTIs (a common occurrence in the first trimester), but it also keeps you sated between meals. Bonus: the more water you drink, the more hydrated your skin. This may also lower the chance of developing stretch marks
- Establishing an exercise routine. Pregnancy isn’t necessarily the time to train for a marathon or start a new weight-lifting routine. But even still, exercise is hugely beneficial – not least for managing your weight. You don’t have to go crazy; even a 30-minute walk each day can do wonders
Tips to prevent stretch marks in the second and third trimesters
Sometime during the second or third trimester, your bump will most definitely be on show.
You’ll probably also notice your body changing quite a bit: perhaps your breasts are growing, or maybe your bones are shifting to prepare for childbirth. All of these can trigger the emergence of stretch marks.
Because this is when many pregnant women start seeing stretch marks, it’s a great time to try and treat them – if you want to, that is.
When they’re still red, purple, pink, or brown, you have a better chance of minimising their appearance with a stretch mark treatment. Stretch marks eventually fade, but once this happens, it can be pretty hard to make them less noticeable.
Grab a targeted stretch mark cream or nourishing belly treatment and apply it to any affected areas on at least a daily basis.
When buying a stretch mark cream or any other topical treatments, there are a few things you’ll want to look out for:
- Make sure it’s pregnancy-safe
- Avoid stretch mark creams that use retinoids (these aren’t safe during pregnancy or breastfeeding)
- Seek out nourishing, natural ingredients like cocoa butter, shea butter, or jojoba butter; oils such as coconut oil or argan oil; and vitamins like A, B3, B5, E, and F
- If you’ve got sensitive skin, you might want to opt for stretch mark creams that don't contain any irritating ingredients like artificial fragrances
At Kin, our Nourishing Cream is specially formulated to promote skin elasticity and recovery, the belly butter is supercharged with Witch Hazel, Shea Butter and vitamins B3, B5, E and F.
Our luxurious belly butter blend keeps your belly and boobies soft and supple as you stretch.
Are pregnancy stretch marks permanent?
Even though they can be a pretty bold hue when they first appear, stretch marks do eventually lighten to a silvery-white colour that’s a lot less noticeable.
However, they’re still permanent. Treatments are great for fading stretch marks, but won't remove stretch marks completely.
When can I expect my stretch marks to go away?
Generally speaking, stretch marks tend to fade to that aforementioned silvery-white colour about six to 12 months after birth.
If you choose to use stretch mark creams, their appearance may lessen a little quicker.
How do I get rid of pregnancy stretch marks?
While you can’t necessarily eliminate stretch marks entirely, there are some measures you can take to further reduce their appearance once you’ve given birth.
3 ways to fade stretch marks post-pregnancy
- Nourishing stretch mark treatments. Continue using a stretch mark cream or stretch mark oil to minimise scarring, especially one that contains the soothing ingredients we mentioned earlier
- Laser therapy. While an expensive and time-consuming option, laser therapy may help increase collagen production and restore certain parts of your skin, thus making stretch marks less obvious
- Cosmetic and non-invasive procedures. Other treatments like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and radiofrequency have been found to diminish the appearance of stretch marks
If you’re unsure which treatment to go for, it’s best to chat to your doctor or a dermatologist about the best option for you.