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Over half of women experience stretch marks along with their burgeoning pregnancy belly, and marks can also appear on buttocks, breasts and arms along with the abdomen. Naturally thin and fair-skinned women are more inclined to evidence of stretching, yet so are women with a body mass index greater than 26. Surprisingly, very young mothers are at highest risk of severe stretch marks, while mothers in their 30’s are less at risk. The overall condition of your skin is a major factor, too: the drier the skin, the higher the chances. To get a good idea of whether pregnancy stretch-marks are in your future, talk to your mother or sister: genetics also seems to be a big predictor of your skin future.
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What’s going on?
Stretch marks are associated with skin’s elastin and collagen. Elastin gives our skin ‘snap,’ and research shows reduced elastin in stretch marks. Collagen is the connective protein that gives skin structure, but skin will tear when collagen is stretched past its limit, which happens when we rapidly gain weight during puberty and pregnancy. The tiny tears heal, leaving scar tissue that is at first an angry red or purple, fading eventually to white or a silvery shade but never disappearing completely.
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Feed your skin
Many pregnant women eat with abandon, happily ‘eating for two.’ But gaining more weight gain than the recommended 25-35 pounds during pregnancy is not only harder to lose afterward, it’s also linked to more stretch marks. After delivery, rapid weight loss can also trigger stretch marks, so aim for gradual weight gain during pregnancy and equally gradual weight loss after delivery.
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While you’re already eating well for the baby, make sure you’ll eating well for your skin, too. Foods high in Vitamin C (peppers, citrus and berries) and zinc (nuts and fish) help to boost collagen formation, so include plenty of them in your pregnancy diet. Vitamin A is necessary for new cell growth, and you can find it as beta carotene in orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and paprika. Crucial for tissue repair, Vitamin E is plentiful in dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
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Along with your prenatal multi-vitamin, be sure to get adequate omega 3 fats, preferably from fish oil. While pregnant women are warned about excess fish consumption due to risk of mercury toxicity, purified fish oils are low in mercury and very high in skin healing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fats make up the membranes of all of your cells, helping to trap moisture to prevent dehydration. And hydration is crucial for healthy skin, especially as it stretches. Be sure to drink plenty of water and non-caffeinated beverages, as coffee is associated with more severe stretch marks.
Get your blood moving
Moderate exercise during pregnancy helps to keep your muscles strong, your heart healthy and your blood circulating key nutrients and oxygen to all the cells in your body, including skin cells. To boost circulation to the topmost layers of skin, enjoy a regular massage or self-massage the areas prone to stretch marks. Dry-brushing is also a good way to bring blood to the topmost layers of skin.
Boost micro-circulation with dry brushing!
Purchase a long handled natural-bristle brush at the health products store. While your skin and the brush are completely dry, start at your feet and brush upward in long, firm strokes toward your heart; front and back. Brush across your buttocks, and go counter-clockwise on your stomach and abdomen. Finish with your arms and each hand. Avoid face and nipples, and cover each area once. As your skin becomes more firm, you can increase pressure. Rinse in the tub or shower, and follow with a nourishing body lotion.
While moisturizing skin might seem a superficial solution to a deeper issue, the research confirms one thing: it may not help but it doesn’t hurt either. At the very least, moisturizer can help to alleviate the itchiness that comes with stretched skin. It makes sense to use creams and oils containing those skin-nourishing vitamins A, C and E (4) as well as the skin-nourishing gamma linolenic acid (GLA) from evening primrose or borage oils. To soothe and condition skin, look for chamomile, lavender or calendula oils. Rich cocoa butter and shea butter have also been used to help alleviate the toll that pregnancy puts on skin. For best results, apply your chosen salve several times a day from the first trimester until you have achieved your pre-pregnancy weight after delivery.
Stretch marks will eventually fade after your baby arrives, so give your body time to heal. If you aren’t happy with your skin then, new research in laser therapy shows some promise for reducing their appearance. And know this: when your baby turns 18, you’ll look at those stretch marks fondly.
By Lisa Petty
Originally published in Blush