What Causes Them & How To Prevent

It's no surprise that during the course of your pregnancy you are going to gain weight -- in fact it is required! Most experts say that a woman of average weight should gain between 25 and 35 pounds throughout her pregnancy. However, even if you lose the baby weight once you've given birth, that doesn't mean it won't haunt you forever in the form of stretch marks! Here we reveal where stretch marks come from, how to prevent them and how to make them appear less obvious if you get them as a result of pregnancy.

Dr. Julie Scott, co-founder of Amomi Spa, a physician-supervised medical spa, and Scottsdale Perinatal Associates in Scottsdale, Arizona, says, "Unfortunately, we can't predict who will get stretch marks and who won't." She does admit, however, that genetics do play a role in who might get them because children inherit skin patterns similar to their parents'. She also says that those who are carrying twins, triples or even quadruplets are more likely to get stretch marks because the skin will have to stretch that much more to make room for multiple babies.

Scott says that stretch marks are essentially the break down of the skin — the result of tears in collagen and the elastic layers of the skin. They can start out red, inflamed and even itchy. Some women get stretch marks because they don't have much elasticity in their skin.

Stretch marks related to pregnancy often don't occur until the very end of the pregnancy, around 35 to 36 weeks, says Scott, due to the rapid stretching of skin at that stage of pregnancy. She also adds that stretch marks don't just occur around the tummy. As breasts, hips and thighs expand to accommodate the growing baby, they too are susceptible to stretch marks.

So what can you do to try to avoid getting stretch marks?

Lotions and potions
Don't count on lotions, emollients, cocoa butter and oil to prevent stretch marks or lessen existing stretch marks. Scott says these products can be great for alleviating itchy skin (a symptom of stretch marks) and keeping the skin hydrated, but there is no real proof that they can prevent stretch marks or lessen the appearance of existing stretch marks.

Hydration, hydration, hydration
Instead of simply relying on lotions and oils to hydrate your skin, be sure to drink lots of water. "Hydrated skin is less likely to develop stretch marks," says Scott.

You are what you eat
Maintaining a healthy diet is another way to ward off stretch marks. Scott says vitamins C and A are essential, but you don't need a supplement. Just be sure you get plenty of each in your regular diet. Great sources of vitamin C include oranges, bell peppers, tomatoes and cantaloupe; try carrots, sweet potatoes and mangoes to get your fill of vitamin A.

Break a sweat
Scott says exercise is important to keep weight gain within a reasonable pattern. "Any dramatic increase in weight can result in stretch marks," she says. So be sure to monitor your weight gain and maintain a slow and steady gain throughout your pregnancy. 

Postpartum treatment
If you do end up with stretch marks, keep in mind that though they will never go away completely, Scott says they do fade from an "angry red and/or purple to a silvery white." She adds the texture of the skin will be different, as well.

While Scott warns "nothing is 100 percent," there are some options for having stretch marks surgically treated. Dermabrasion, chemical peels and laser treatments can minimize the appearance of stretch marks. She suggests laser treatments as one of the best treatments because they can actually help build up the damaged collagen.

Read more:

10 foods every pregnant woman should eat
Pregnancy food cravings: Fact or fiction
10 Things you don't have to worry about when you are pregnant

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