As your baby grows (and so do you) your skin gets stretched. And stretched. Stretch marks affect about 90 per cent of pregnant women and you can't prevent them, although many of us spend a small fortune trying to do so.
Stretch marks, which are also known as stria or striae are reddish lines, slightly indented, that usually appear on the breasts, belly and upper thighs. They don't just affect pregnant women - they can happen whenever the skin is stretched, for example if you gain weight suddenly or in growth spurts during puberty.
Your skin is made up of three layers and stretch marks occur in the middle layer (the dermis).
Stretch marks can look very visible at first, as this mum describes: "The later half of the pregnancy it looked like there were flames rising from my pants."
If you haven't got them, don't start boasting yet, as they tend to appear in the last three months of pregnancy.
Can you do anything to prevent stretch marks?
Before you start investing in expensive oils and ointments, look to your mother. You're more likely to develop stretch marks if they occur in your family, because what matters is your skin type.
If you can, try to gain weight steadily during your pregnancy - although this is easier said than done, obviously.
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• Body lotion and oil reviews
What oils and lotions can do is minimise the effects; they retain moisture, and massaging moisturiser into your skin is good for your circulation.
If your stretch marks itch, try after-sun lotion with cooling agents.
Stretch marks won't miraculously disappear after the birth, but they will lighten, turning a silvery colour.
Although they don't affect your physical health, some women find them very psychologically undermining, as they can erode confidence about your appearance.
But as this Mumsnetter puts it: "There's only one surefire way to prevent stretch marks – don't get pregnant."
What Mumsnetters say about stretch marks
- The pregnancy hormones that loosen your ligaments do so by softening collagen. They also soften skin collagen, so it's more vulnerable to tearing when the skin is stretched by pregnancy. Retin A cream and lasers have been shown to be effective at reducing stretch marks, but work best when they're still red. Aloha
- According to a dermatologist friend, nothing you put on topically has any effect on whether or not you get stretch marks. They happen many layers below the surface. Unfortunately, you either get them or you don't... I got them (lower belly, hips and boobs - sigh). Chelle
- I'm so, so grateful to have had healthy babies and I know babies are more important than bellies but I do feel utterly despairing when I inspect it too closely. ScummyMummy
- I've just accepted I'm never going to reveal my tum in public ever again. ChanelNo5
- I cringe when I think about how long into my pregnancy I patted myself on the back that I had no stretch marks, only to find one night when undressing at my mum's (she has a low level light in one of the bedrooms) that they were all hiding under my bump where I couldn't see them. It looked like someone had painted a roadmap on my stomach. SueW
- I see them as scars of childbirth that remind us what a bloody painful time it was and helps stop us from thinking of having any more! Rhubarb