Pregnant women are beautiful. Bumps, lumps, hormonal pimples and all. It’s a miraculous time and a woman’s body is doing an incredible thing, growing life. However, with that growth can come the often-inevitable arrival of stretch marks. Some people avoid them (congrats on winning the rare gene pool there!) and some people get more than they are happy with. The good news is, there are things that you can do during pregnancy to give yourself a better chance of avoiding them, or at least, minimising their severity.
It is estimated that between 75 percent and 90 percent of women develop stretch marks during pregnancy. So what are stretch marks, and what causes them? During pregnancy, stretch marks occur as the skin rapidly grows to accommodate the fetus and extra fat stores around the body. The “mark” is actually created in the middle layer (the dermis) of the skin, as it is continuously stretched over a relatively short period of time. Continued tension from the stretching can cause the tissue fibers to break down, and this breakdown is visible on the top layer of the skin (the epidermis). Essentially, the stretching during pregnancy can cause tiny tears in the skin. These tiny tears then end up forming scars or “stretch marks”.
Here are some tips for preventing and treating stretch marks;
1. Stay hydrated
During pregnancy, your body has an increased demand for hydration. Drinking adequate amounts of water helps to keep your skin hydrated and soft to ensure optimal skin elasticity. It is recommended that you drink 8 glasses of purified water each day, more if you are vomiting due to morning sickness, or are sweating a lot. Please speak to your midwife or GP about what is best for you. Pay attention to how you are feeling. Dry lips or a dry throat is a sure sign of dehydration. Well-hydrated skin is more pliable and less prone to stretch marks. Eliminate drinks that contribute to dehydration such as coffee and black tea.
2. Eat a nutrient-rich diet
Stretch marks are more likely to occur if you lack nutrition in certain areas. It’s obviously essential to eat a healthy diet during pregnancy anyway, but it pays to be mindful of including foods that specifically help to boost skin health too. Make sure your diet includes foods rich in:
Vitamin A (carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, spinach, kale)
Vitamin A protects skin health while encouraging the formation of new skin cells. It’s not safe to take vitamin A supplements during pregnancy, so this vitamin must be naturally obtained from the diet.
Vitamin C (oranges, kiwifruit, tomatoes, capsicum, lemons, broccoli, strawberries, kale, snow peas, spinach)
Vitamin C is a necessary nutrient for the development of collagen. Collagen plays a crucial role in keeping your skin strong and elastic. While it is known to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, its is also considered important for preventing stretch marks.
Vitamin D (Egg yolk, mushrooms, tuna, salmon)
Vitamin D helps to boost the skin’s elasticity, which in turn can help to reduce stretch marks and scars. Vitamin D plays an important role in stopping the epidermal atrophy (breaking of tissue fibers) that occurs in the skin from overstretching or rapid growth.
Vitamin E (Sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ, hazelnuts, avocado, brazil nuts, red pepper, butternut squash)
Vitamin E is essential for healthy skin as well as the repair of damaged skin.
Zinc (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, egg yolk, mushrooms, legumes, meat, seeds, nuts, whole grains)
Zinc is an important nutrient for skin health. It helps reduce inflammation and plays a role in the wound healing process.
Healthy fats (omega 3 & 6 oils, olive oil, salmon, flax seeds, herring, coconut oil)
An increase in the consumption of healthy fats and essential fatty acids are vital for healthy skin. They improve skin strength, hydration and elasticity.
Collagen (from organic animal bone broth)
Collagenis one of the primary components of skin. It helps strengthen cartilage, blood vessels and connective tissue while providing the flexibility and resilience skin needs to withstand stretching. Since collagen occurs naturally in the connective tissue of animals, bone broth is one of the best food sources of collagen in the diet. Bones from grass-fed, organic animals are the best choice, especially during pregnancy, since they are free of antibiotics and hormones.
3. Moisturise with quality products
Many women swear by moisturising morning and night to help the skin stay hydrated. Hydrated skin is more pliable, increasing its potential to stretch. Sometimes moisturising alone is enough to keep stretch marks away, but moisturisers only work on the outer skin so don’t forget to take extra measures to improve elasticity through diet also. When searching for a stretch mark cream, look for something that contains natural, plant-based ingredients. Some beneficial ingredients to consider include;
Cocoa Butter & Shea Butter: Many people’s ‘go-to’ when they think of stretch mark creams…and for good reason! Cocoa and shea butters provide excellent hydration for the skin while smoothing and plumping skin.
Almond Oil: Another moisturising oil rich in Vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and supports new skin cell growth.
Lutein: Lutein is a natural antioxidant that can help to improve skin hydration, while supporting stretching skin.
Argan Oil: Rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin E. Argan oil can help to soften and condition skin while helping reduce the appearance of scarring from stretched skin.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is rich in fatty acids and helps support healthy, supple skin. Coconut oil can also help to promote healing of the skin.
If you do develop stretch marks during pregnancy, you may be relieved to know that they will eventually fade somewhat. Over time, the red or pink color will mature into a pale silver or white color. Above all, it’s important to remember that stretch marks are very common and completely normal. Don’t forget to love the skin you’re in, stretch marks and all. Your body is, after all, miraculous.
During pregnancy, always consult with your GP or midwife before making any changes to your current diet or supplement regime.