Pregnancy stretch marks or striae gravidarum if you want to get technical, form during pregnancy and are beautiful. They are a mother’s tiger stripes, badge of honour, showcasing just what our amazing bodies can do. They are also very common, the NHS notes that 8 out of 10 women develop stretch marks throughout the course of their pregnancy.
Stretch marks occur when the middle layer of skin known as the dermis becomes stretched and broken in places. Some studies believe that whether you develop stretch marks depends on your skin type, for example some skin types have more elasticity than others and gaining more than the recommended average pregnancy weight also contributes to stretch mark formation.
I have been lucky enough not to get any stretch marks for both my pregnancies, not that I would have minded if I did, however I did want to try and avoid them if possible. I followed the same three basic principles for both my pregnancies which I believe helped stop them from forming, and wanted to share with you in the event they prove useful.
Strengthen your Core Muscles before you become Pregnant
Before my first pregnancy I was exercising 2-3 times per week at my gym to get fit before I fell pregnant. I focused on strengthening my core as a priority. Health experts note that your core is essentially made up of many muscles, including your rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think “abs”), transverse abdominis (the deepest internal core muscle that wraps around your sides and spine), erector spinae (a set of muscles in your lower back), and the internal and external obliques (the muscles on the sides of your abdomen). When you think about it, these are all muscles which support your bump when pregnant.
When I was pregnant with both my first and my second baby just before I gave birth, two separate midwives for each delivery noted, ‘did you know you have really strong abdominal muscles?’. I was taken aback by this the first time, but realized the exercises I done prior had helped with supporting my bump. A strong abdominal wall mean a growing uterus is going to stay closer to the core of the body making a bump appear smaller and is also more supported. From my pregnancy photos you can see my bump was both small and close to my body (up and high). This prevented my skin from stretching too much and avoided sagging, which in turn helped in limiting the formation of stretch marks.
Strengthening your core muscles before pregnancy has other benefits too, it means that you’re going to prevent back problems, have an easier time pushing during labor and recovery will be quicker, not to mention overall fitness will shorten labor time.
Keep your Bump Moisturised
As your skin inevitably stretches, keep it super moisturised and hydrated with oils and creams which penetrate deep into the skin, this which will help with the pulling of the skin by making the skin more subtle and help prevent stretch marks forming. I used Bio-Oil in both my pregnancies and went through multiple bottles, do not use it sparingly – instead slather it on your bump, obliques and thighs daily.
Bio-Oil is made of a blend of oils that help add moisture to your skin helping it stretch as your belly gets bigger and aid in restoration postpartum. While I swear by Bio-Oil you can also use other oils and creams, from Organic Coconut Oil to those high in Cacao and Shea butter . Do make sure you apply it at least once daily. I found the best time to do this was directly after I had a shower in the evenings, and skin experts also suggest that your skin has the most moisture when it’s wet, and most moisturisers work best when skin is already hydrated. Evening application also worked well for me as Bio-Oil for example, tends to stain clothes and I found it better to apply it when I was only wearing my PJs and not ruining my clothes. It is important to bear in mind that there are certain oils and skincare ingredients you should avoid using while pregnant, which I have linked in my previous skincare blog post here.
Maintain a Healthy Weight and BMI
This is easier said than done however make sure you have a balanced diet, and undertake gentle daily exercises, pregnancy pilates or yoga, and even a brisk walk is beneficial. The NHS advises that although weight gain in pregnancy varies greatly, most pregnant women gain between 10kg and 12.5kg (22lb to 26lb), putting on most of the weight after week 20. Much of the extra weight is due to your baby growing, but your body will also be storing fat, ready to make breast milk after your baby is born. Putting on too much or too little weight can lead to health problems for you or your unborn baby. The NHS notes that women are more likely to get stretch marks if their weight gain is more than average in pregnancy.
I ate the same foods I did prior to being pregnant, and gave in to my cravings in moderation. I did gentle daily exercises and drank a lot of water to stay hydrated and flush out any toxins. There is no need to be pedantic about your diet, eat healthy and nutritious meals and snack on those not so healthy treats in moderation. This way you will stay within a healthy range and won’t add extra additional weight which contributes to stretch marks as your skin pulls apart quickly due to this rapid weight gain during pregnancy.
Let me know if you have questions in the comments below!
Kerstin // Lux Mumma
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