Can Stretch Marks be Prevented in Pregnancy?
A common question I am asked by my pregnant clients and ladies in my Nourish Bloom & Grow facebook group is whether they can do anything to prevent stretch marks.
Stretch marks in pregnancy
Stretch marks are caused by breakage of collagen and elastin, the flexible and elastic fibers under the skin. In pregnancy, this can be caused by the stretching of the skin from the growing womb, baby and breasts. The hormonal changes in pregnancy also increase the likelihood of stretch marks. The medical name for stretch marks in pregnancy is Striae gravidarum.
Can stretch marks be prevented?
Now, before I go through the natural medicine prevention strategies, I must say this. There is a strong genetic association with getting stretch marks. If the women in your family develop stretch marks in pregnancy, you are more likely to get them over the course of your pregnancy. Stretch marks are also more common in younger women, women with a higher pre-pregnancy BMI, women who have had stretch marks on their breasts, and with higher birth weight babies. Up to 90% of women develop some stretch marks while pregnant. Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at pictures of pregnant bellies used in advertising and the media!
There are some things we do have some control over, in terms of stretch mark prevention.
Mothers who gain more weight while pregnant have a greater chance of developing stretch marks. While I would never advise trying to minimise normal pregnancy weight gain, exercise and supporting metabolic health with a nutrient rich diet are the right ingredients for healthy weight gain, and preventing excess. You can check your recommended pregnancy weight gain using this calculator from the CDC
Another thing we have control over is how much water we drink, keeping ourselves and our skin hydrated. One study found that women who drank more water (8 glasses or more per day) had a lesser incidence of developing stretch marks. The same study found that mummas who drank alcohol during pregnancy had a greater chance of getting stretch marks. I’m sure I don’t need to inform you to avoid alcohol in pregnancy just for this reason!
Nutrients involved in skin tissue integrity and collagen formation and support, include:
In fact, especially in non-pregnant people, stretch marks can be an indication of zinc deficiency. Zinc helps the body make proteins. It’s an important mineral for skin regeneration and repair. If I have a pregnant client who was on the the pill prior to pregnancy, or has zinc deficiency signs, I often advise they supplement with a extra zinc on top of what is in their prenatal multi.
Zinc rich foods include red meats and seafood, beans and legumes.
A study showed that pregnant women with low vitamin C levels in their blood were more likely to develop stretch marks. It’s great to be eating foods with high vitamin C at every meal while pregnant. Not only is it great for the skin, it also helps to increase iron absorption, and many women get low in iron through pregnancy. Heat can destruct vitamin C, so try and eat some raw fruit and vegetables every day.
Vitamin E is a skin-helper in so many ways. It protects against UV damage, helps to keep skin moisturized and helps with wound healing. Foods rich in vitamin E, a fat soluble vitamin, include almonds, avocados and sunflower seeds. There has been some positive research into a cream containing vitamin E for stretch mark prevention, see below. To boost your intake of vitamin E, eat a small handful of nuts(like almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts) and a small handful of seeds (like sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds) daily.
Protein, especially lysine, glycine and proline
Skin cells are replaced frequently, about every 2-3 weeks. The primary building materials we need to make new, healthy skin are amino acids, the molecules that make up proteins. Pregnant women need around 1.2g protien per kilogram per day in their first trimester, increasing to around 1.5g per kilogram per day in their third trimester. You can check and see how much you are eating by using a food diary app, like My Fitness Pal. The protein building blocks lysine, glycine, and proline help the body form collagen, which helps give skin strength and elasticity. Not surprisingly, these amino acids are found in animal foods also rich in connective tissue, such as broth made from bones and cartilage/carcasses, gelatin, osso buco and tougher, stewing cuts of meat. Other sources include whole eggs, dairy products and in lesser amounts in legumes and leafy green vegetables.
Essential fatty acids
Many people think about rubbing oils on their bellies to prevent stretch marks. The oils we consume also make our skin healthy from the inside. The essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, found in seafood, fish oil and microalgae supplements, are great for skin. EPA and DHA supplements taken in pregnancy have also been shown to decrease allergies, eczema and asthma in babies, increase cognitive development and IQ for their babies, help prevent postnatal depression for Mum.
Studies looking at applying oils and creams to prevent stretch marks have been mixed. Most studies have not found any benefit. Some studies found that the actual massage, not the oil or preparation, made a difference. I think it’s worth a doing, given that there are no great risks, and it’s a beautiful way to practice self care and bond with your baby. I’ve got a recipe for a safe aromatherapy belly rub here.
A commercial cream, Trofolastin, with Gotu Kola extract, vitamin E and collagen–elastin hydrolysates, was found in a study of 80 pregnant women to reduce risk of stretch mark formation. This cream also contains 2 different parabens. These chemicals are known to be hormone mimicking, and may affect the vulnerable growing baby. For this reason, I do not recommend this product.
You have not failed a healthy pregnancy
You may be doing or have done all the ‘right’ things. If you develop stretch marks in pregnancy, you have NOT failed at anything! Many women call their pregnancy stretch marks their tiger stripes. Marks of pride, earned by carrying their growing cubs. While stretch marks are often deep pink to purple when they appear, they do fade with time.