The risk of stretch marks is a source of self-consciousness for most women. While it is not the most pressing issue while pregnant, it does linger at the back of your mind.
No one wants a striped, post-natal belly. We are willing to try anything to keep them from appearing. But is there anything we can do to guarantee they will not show up? What are they, and what causes them, exactly?
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What are Stretch Marks?
Stretch marks are aptly named. They are tears in the elastic fibers under the skin that result from – you guessed it – stretching. Often, they occur when the body grows at a fast rate, often too quickly for the skin to keep up.
Not just limited to pregnancy, stretch marks can happen to anyone, even in some children who endure growth spurts, or body builders who are training for an upcoming match or taking steroids. They are often seen in areas of the body that grow quickly or experience high fat retention, such as the stomach, chest, hips, butt, and thighs.
Causes of Stretch Marks
Unfortunately, most of them just have to do with the fact you are pregnant: you are a woman, gaining weight quickly in your thighs, hips, and stomach, and you have milk coming in stretching your breast tissue.
Your genetics can also influence how susceptible you are to skin damage. If you have family members with stretch marks, or if your mother had them while she was pregnant, you are likely to get them as well.
Can They Be Prevented?
It may seem that stretch marks are inevitable, and some level of damage to your skin is a sure thing. However, these tips will at least minimize the severity of any markings and keep your skin in the best condition possible.
They are also good lifestyle changes anyway, and will have a positive impact on your general health. So you have nothing to lose.
Gain (and Lose) Weight Slowly
Weight gain is inevitable (and necessary) in pregnancy. But the old adage “eating for two” does not mean you eat twice as much. In fact, gaining too much weight can lead to pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy).
So, just how much weight should be gained in pregnancy, when should it be gained, and how can you keep it under control?
The amount of weight you need to gain is determined based on your pre-pregnancy weight, health, and how many babies you are carrying. On average, a woman at a normal weight should only gain about 25-35 pounds throughout the duration of her pregnancy.
Your weight gain in pregnancy should be spread throughout the entire duration of the pregnancy, particularly focused in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.By gaining weight quickly, your body will expand too quickly for your skin to keep up, leaving you more at risk for developing stretch marks.
Simply increasing your caloric intake by 300 a day can keep your weight gain under control while making sure you are feeding yourself and your baby appropriately. This will allow your body to adjust slowly and avoid those stretch marks.
Keep Skin Hydrated
Hydrated skin is supple skin. It moves easier, stretches efficiently, and has greater flexibility. But skin is not merely hydrated from the outside with various creams, lotions, and ointments. It starts from the inside.
The best way to keep your skin hydrated is to drink lots of water. Water is, of course, a necessity for overall body health and function, but it is especially important during pregnancy. According to the Institute of Medicine, women should receive at least 72 ounces of water per day, and this number should be increased in pregnancy.
To keep your skin hydrated, you should also avoid caffeinated beverages. These can dry your skin out by dehydrating you. Caffeine should be avoided during pregnancy anyways, as caffeine can have negative effects on your baby’s development.
Many creams and lotions are not as effective against stretch marks, contrary to popular belief, compared to keeping your body hydrated from the inside. However, using Bio-Oil in addition to normal hydration through water, can help your stretching skin feel comfortable and can potentially be an added defense against stretch marks.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Not only is a balanced diet necessary for your baby’s development in utero, but it can mean the difference between smooth skin and stretch marks. By feeding your skin, you help the collagen and elastin fibers remain strong and flexible. This decreases their likelihood of breaking and causing stretch marks.
Make sure your diet is rich in vitamins like C, D, and E, zinc and protein. This can improve your skin’s texture and could possibly stave off stretch marks. A healthy diet will also promote healthy weight gain, providing another way to avoid developing stretch marks.
Exercise (If Possible)
You know that staying active during pregnancy is good for your overall health, but did you know that it can be particularly beneficial to your skin? Exercise improves blood circulation, which can help the skin retain its elasticity and allow it to stretch efficiently without tearing and creating stretch marks.
Of course, you should always consult your OB before starting an exercise routine if you are pregnant. There are some rare cases in pregnancy that can limit your ability to exercise safely. If your doctor gives you the thumbs up to start an exercise routine, try this easy workout that is geared toward pregnancy safety.
We women want to feel beautiful, and we tend to have a negative outlook on stretch marks. If there is a way to avoid them, we are likely to try anything to do so. A balanced diet and exercise can help keep your skin healthy and elastic, and avoid excess weight gain.
However, if you are one of the majority – like me – who could not avoid developing stretch marks during pregnancy, it is not the end of the world. Rather, we can realize that our bodies have accomplished a great feat, growing a little amazing human.
Do you have any questions or concerns about stretch marks? Were you able to develop a routine that avoided them? Share your questions and comments below so support other moms like you. And if you know someone who will benefit from this article, be sure to share it.