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As you and your baby grow, your skin stretches. And stretches. Stretch marks affect about 90 per cent of pregnant women and - woe - you can't prevent them (although many of us spend a small fortune trying to do so).
Also known as striae, stretch marks are reddish lines, slightly indented, that usually appear on the breasts, belly and upper thighs.
They're caused by the layer of collagen in the middle layer of your skin (the dermis) tearing as your skin stretches over your growing body.
Stretch marks can look very visible at first - but if you haven't got them, don't start boasting yet: they tend to appear in the last three months of pregnancy.
Although they don't affect your physical health, some women find them very psychologically undermining. If you feel a bit down about them, try thinking of them as badges of honour - the outward signs that your body is doing something really pretty amazing.
Stretch marks won't miraculously disappear after the birth, but they will lighten, turning a silvery colour rather than the current dashing pink.
Can you do anything to prevent stretch marks?
Before you start investing in expensive lotions and potions, look to your mother. You're more likely to develop stretch marks if they occur in your family, since it's all down to your skin type.
What oils and ointments can do is minimise the effects, since they help your skin retain moisture - and massaging moisturiser into your skin is good for your circulation generally. If your stretch marks are itchy, try using an after-sun lotion with cooling agents.
If you can, try to gain weight steadily during your pregnancy - although this is easier said than done, obviously.
As one Mumsnetter puts it: "There's only one surefire way to prevent stretch marks - don't get pregnant." Ahem, it might be a bit late for that...
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