Stretch marks are a common thread among first-time moms in pregnancy forums. Every mama is wondering– how can I prevent them?
In my initial internet searches, I found that there are essentially two camps on this issue. There’s one side that swears stretch marks are genetic and that if your mama got them, then you definitely will too. On the other side, there are the people selling creams, lotion, oils, and other “miracle” products, that swear that with the right product, you can prevent and even eliminate stretch marks!
As usual, the truth falls somewhere in the middle.
There is nothing wrong with stretch marks. Whether they first appeared, barely noticeable on the inside of your thighs during puberty or if they spread over your stomach and hips during your first year of college, one thing that you need to know is: stretch marks are normal and almost all women (and most men) have them.
Stretch marks are a physiological reaction. Stretch marks don’t define you or your body. They are just tears. They are simply scars. They develop when your body grows more quickly than your skin can keep up with and the skin is stretched past its elasticity. This occurs during periods of rapid growth or weight gain and are especially common for women during pregnancy.
I am not here to say that you can prevent any and all stretch marks during pregnancy or that you must aspire to. I am writing this blog to share some research, basic concepts of dermatology, lifestyle factors within your control, and my personal perspective and experience with stretch marks as a pregnant mama and pregnancy and postpartum coach.
The first item we need to explore in the question of stretch marks during pregnancy is genetics. If your mother developed a lot of stretch marks during pregnancy, will you automatically have the same fate?
The answer is no, not definitively.
The best research-based data we have on the matter is from a survey conducted by the department of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine. This study sampled 161 women who had given birth. They found that 48% percent of the women with stretch marks said their mothers also had them postpartum. Of the women who did not develop stretch marks, 19% reported that their mothers did observe stretch marks as a symptom of pregnancy.
The medical students ultimately concluded that family history could be predictive of stretch mark development.
When looking at genetics we have to look at lifestyle factors as well. You know, the whole Nature v Nurture conundrum.
When it comes to health issues, so much of what humans experience is linked to how they live their lives. For example, if a woman’s grandparents smoked cigarettes, were alcoholics, were overweight, and then suffered from heart attacks and strokes in their 60’s, it isn’t necessarily something that will be passed down to her genetically if she lives a healthy lifestyle.
Perhaps the women in the 48% group had similar lifestyle habits (such as high BMI, low protein or nutrient-dense diets, and inactivity) as their mothers? Maybe their higher rate of stretch marks was lifestyle or habit-based versus a case of genetics?
In any case, there are no absolutes and some general health practices that I’ll outline below can support your body and skin through the growth of pregnancy regardless of your genetics.
Weight gain is a normal and healthy part of pregnancy.
That said, the old saying of “you’re eating for two” is not literal. If you were eating 2000 calories a day before pregnancy, you don’t suddenly need to eat 4000 calories a day.
Mothers-to-be should follow and overall balanced diet. There is some room for treats and cravings, but your intake should include protein-rich foods, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and plenty of fiber. Usually adding 300-400 additional calories during the 2nd and 3rd trimester is plenty to keep mama and baby growing at a healthy rate.
Falling prey to a “screw it” mentality and eating anything and everything you want will put you at risk for unhealthy weight gain and malnutrition (due to lack of nutrient-dense foods), both of which contribute to an increased occurrence of stretch marks because excessive weight gain means more stretching of the skin and lack of nutrients means your skin doesn’t have what it needs to perform its best.
Pregnant or not, everyone should get at least half their body weight in ounces of water per day and up to 1 oz per pound of body weight if they are active. It may seem like a lot to some, but almost every function of the human body relies on proper hydration including maintaining elasticity in our skin!
So, someone who weighs 160# should be getting 80-160 oz of water for optimal health in general. This intake can be hard for anyone and it is exceptionally hard for a woman with a little babe literally squashing her bladder.
As your pregnancy progresses, you will need to increase water intake to stay within these recommendations. We recommend getting a large 32 oz water bottle to help you track more easily and set benchmarks throughout the day the help you stay on track.
For example, 32 oz by 12 pm, 4 pm, and 8 pm to reach your daily quota.
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. From your hair to your muscles, to your skin…Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Without adequate nutritional protein intake, your skin cells can not replenish and repair, leaving you more susceptible to tearing.
A general rule of thumb you can adapt during pregnancy is getting a minimum of 100 grams of protein per day. Whether you officially track in an app like MyFitnessPal, use mental math to keep track or aim for 4 meals with 25g of protein in them — you can reach this goal.
Collagen is one of the proteins that has the greatest impact on your skin. It gives your skin strength, elasticity, and aids in general wound healing.
Not all protein-rich foods have high levels of collagen. By adding in a collagen supplement you not only can protect your skin from the tearing associated with stretching, but you can also start repairing damage as it occurs!
Here are some of our favorite collagen supplements for pre, during, and post-pregnancy:
While there is no direct research to link Zinc intake to the treatment or prevention of stretch marks, we do know that the mineral is an important nutrient for skin health mainly due to the role it plays in forming and collagen, supporting the wound healing process and decreasing inflammation.
We recommend including plenty of foods high in zinc like red meat, beans, and dairy in your diet in addition to foods with trace amounts like seeds, vegetables, potatoes, wheat, and quinoa to get your zinc intake up from food.
To ensure you’re getting all the zinc you need, we also recommend adding 30-60 mg of a zinc supplement daily.
Here is one of our favorite Zinc Supplements:
Vitamin C is another important nutrient for the development of collagen and an antioxidant that your body uses to fight off toxins known as “free radicals” which inhibit healing and repair of your skin.
Most prenatal vitamins will have 100%+ of your daily Vitamin C needs, but we recommend including vitamin c rich foods like oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, and lemon in your daily diet to aid in skin elasticity and more importantly to keep your immune system on point!
One study found a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and the incidence of stretch marks. More research is needed, but results suggest that maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D may reduce your risk of stretch marks.
The easiest way to get vitamin D is through exposure to the sun but you can also supplement it through your prenatal or a separate supplement.
Here is a link to our favorite Vitamin D supplement:
Exercise improves circulation, which keeps the skin elastic and more able to stretch as it grows. This improved circulation also reduces the possibility of varicose veins and swollen ankles in pregnancy.
It can be really hard to motivate yourself to get active during pregnancy when you feel tired and sick, but women almost always report feeling better after a workout than they did before.
Resistance training coupled with adequate protein intake is the only way to maintain your body’s lean muscle mass during pregnancy.
While this may not directly impact your skin’s elasticity, having more muscle will keep your body more firm and toned and will also keep you strong and able for labor, delivery, and an easier postpartum recovery period.
Anecdotally, women who followed our Fitbliss Strong Pregnancy programs, in conjunction with the variables listed above, have a lower incidence of stretch marks, and the stretch marks that were observed faded for the most part over time.
Creams, Oils & Lotions.. Oh My!
There are lots of products out there that promise to treat and prevent stretch marks. While there is a place for oils, lotions, and creams within an overall healthy pregnancy program, slathering yourself with oil alone is not going to save your skin.
While they are miracle by no means, some products will aid in keeping your skin hydrated and moisturized which can improve your skin’s elasticity and offer relief if you’re feeling an itchy sensation as your baby and bump grows.
Personally, I’ve been using both an oil and a cream in tandem after every shower and bath since week 7. So far I have yet to develop stretch marks on my belly or sides. I have noticed some new ones on my hips and glutes and surprisingly, the ones I’ve had on my inner thighs since puberty have actually faded since adding my oil and cream.
I gently rub the Pure Life Science Oil in circular motions over my belly, sides, boobs, hips, butt, hamstrings, and inner thighs when my skin is still moist and warm.
I let the oil soak into my skin for a couple of minutes and then repeat the same process with my Amar Anti Stretch Mark Cream.
Both of these products smell sooo good with the oil having a citrus scent and the cream having almost of vanilla cupcake smell. They both absorb well into my skin and they don’t leave any oil stains on my clothes.
The Pure Life oil is reasonably priced through Amazon Prime at $14.99 and the cream is a bit pricier at $48 per container. I used one container of each from week 7-30 and am planning on using my second orders through the third and fourth (postpartum) trimesters for a total investment of $125.
Other products highly recommended by our team of Fitbliss Mamas include:
Stretch marks are not definitively caused by genetics. Regardless of if your mom had them or not, there are ways you can personally support your changing body, growing belly and stretching skin during the miracle of pregnancy.
Your first line of defense against stretch marks starts on the inside and works its way out.
By ensuring that you are keeping weight gain to a healthy level (which is a hard one to define because this varies so much woman to woman, generally being between 20-50 pounds), getting adequate nutrition to support cell growth/repair, staying hydrated and physically active, you have covered the most important variables in minimizing the occurrence of stretch marks.
Adding oils, creams, or lotions to your skin as external support to keep your skin moisturized can provide additional elasticity in your skin as your baby bump blossoms but are not a miracle one-step solutions.
Most women will get some stretch marks during pregnancy and while these tips can minimize the amount you get, what’s most important is acknowledging that your worth is not defined by how elastic your skin is.
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