Stretch Marks in Pregnancy
Written by Dr.M.D.Mazumdar, MD
Stretch marks, also called Striae Gravidarum or sometimes the 'marks of pregnancy' are something that all women would like to prevent when they get pregnant.
Why do stretch marks occur?
The reason for their occurance lies in the anatomical structure of the skin. The skin has two layers - a thin upper layer called the epidermis and a thicker, lower layer called the dermis.
Scattered in the dermis are fine protein filaments called elastin that, like a piece of rubber band, are capable of stretching on being pulled.
But just as a rubber band can stretch only so far and no further, these elastin fibres can also be stretched only to a certain extent. If stretched further, they snap. The torn elastin produces scars on the skin called Stria Gravidarum or stretch marks.
Stretch marks appear in most but not in all pregnant women, and not just on the lower abdomen. They may be seen on the breasts, upper inner arms, waist etc. Stretch marks occur when the skin is stretched in a very short period of time, as in pregnancy or in obesity.
Strech marks are more common in:
Sites where stretch marks occur
Although some women are genetically prone to develop stretch marks, it has been noted that athletes and women accustomed to heavy, physical work get very few or no stretch marks. This is regardless of whether their female relatives have stretch marks or not.
The reason for this is that that these women have very well-developed and strong abdominal muscles. These muscles can easily take the weight of the growing uterus and prevent it from pressing forwards on the skin - rather like wearing a strong muscular belt under the skin.
The skin is thus stretched less, less elastin fibres are damaged, and there are fewer stretch marks.
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What you can do to Prevent Stretch Marks
Exercises : Gentle exercises for the abdominal muscles can be started as soon as pregnancy has been confirmed or even as pregnancy is being planned after a thorough discussion with the obstetrician:
- Exercise 1 : Standing erect, raise both arms above the head. Bend forward slowly to touch your toes. Hold the position for a count of 100. Then slowly straighten up. Do this exercise at least once daily.
- Exercise 2 : Standing erect, raise both arms above the head and clasp your hands. Now bend slowly to your left as far down as you feel comfortable. Hold for a count of 10. Straighten up slowly and then bend to your right. Hold to a count of 10. Straighten up. Exhale as you are bending and inhale while straightening up. This makes one set. Do at least 3 sets once daily.
- Exercise 3 : Stand straight with feet about 12 inches apart. Place hands on your back at the waist. Slowly bend back, as far back as you feel comfortable. Hold to a count of 10. Straighten up. Now bend forward slowly, hold the position to a count of 10. Then straighten up. Exhale as you are bending and inhale while straightening up. This makes one set. Do at least 3 sets once daily.
Caring for the skin : Keep the skin moisturized by applying oil - olive oil, wheat germ oil, almond oil or any good baby oil - thoroughly over the skin of the abdomen, hips and thighs. Massage it in with sweeping upward strokes. You can do this before you exercise so that the oil is properly absorbed as the skin is stretched during exercise. This will make the skin supple and healthy and capable of stretching without damaging the elastin fibres.
A Good Diet : Take a good diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and adequate liquids. And do not forget your daily vitamins. This will ensure a healthy and supple skin. The good thing about stretch marks is that they fade over time. When they are first formed, they are reddish or purplish, but later they become thin silvery lines that may not be visible at first glance. The bad thing about stretch marks is that they can be removed permanently only by surgery.
The elastin and collagen growth of the skin can be stimulated to some extent by cocoa butter, Vitamin E, wheat germ oil and lanolin. But to remove the marks completely, laser surgery, blue light therapy and other surgical treatments are the only options. Many creams and lotions available on the market also claim to be able to remove stretch marks but have yet to be medically proved.
Hydration : Drinking adequate water helps to keep the skin taut and supple, preventing or reducing the apperance of stretch marks.
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