We’ve all heard the euphemisms—mama-tiger stripes, badges of honor, battle scars—but we know what they really are—stretch marks. It’s one of the most common concerns that women face once they get a positive pregnancy test result. For most women, the joy and expectancy of pregnancy would be even better if we didn’t have to worry that it meant putting the bikini away forever. We also know that not every woman is the same. Some women are lucky enough to walk away from pregnancy unscathed, with little or no stretch marks, and others emerge from labor and delivery looking like they were hacked at with a dull blade.
But how can we tell which type of new mom we are going to be—the type who plays with her cute toddler on the beach while she’s rocking her bikini? Or the mom hiding in the most full-coverage, one-piece bathing suit she can find.
Are there signs we can watch out for that might give us a heads-up that we are doomed to stretch marks, so we can treat our skin as proactively as possible right from the early days of our pregnancy?
Experts tell us, yes, there are a few signs that we can look for that might indicate that there are some “badges of honor” in our future.
While some lucky people inherit high metabolisms and naturally curly hair from their relatives, others inherit grandma and aunt Sally’s tendency toward stretch marks, so those relatives might as well also hand down their gently used granny-style bathing suits.
While it’s long been suspected that genetics plays a major role in the severity of stretch marks a woman will experience during pregnancy, a recent study by 23andMe, has proven that there is a genetic link. In fact, four genetic variants were actually found to be associated with more severe stretch marks, and these are passed down to new generations. One major variant was found near the gene for elastin production, an indication that the amount of elastin produced by the skin cells may be negatively affected by the presence of the variant gene.
So if your mother, grandmother, and sister, are all “mama tigers who’ve earned their stripes,” grab your best stretch mark cream, because chances are you are also going to roar.
If you suddenly find that you are constantly lifting the bottom of your shirt to scratch like a trucker with a beer belly—then you might want to begin slathering on the cocoa butter. Stretch marks are formed when our skin stretches very quickly, causing the collagen and elastin fibers that form the structure of our skin to rupture.
While nearly all women experience some itchiness on their growing belly, if the itching becomes more noticeable or uncomfortable, you are at risk of stretch marks developing, and it’s time to use a product such as a stretch mark cream or oil, or cocoa butter, to improve the skin’s elasticity and relieve the itching.
You are a Young Expectant Mother
While taut young skin is beautiful, and older women may look at it with envy, young moms-to-be with smooth, tight skin are more at risk of developing stretch marks. Tight skin that is forced to rapidly stretch over a growing belly is more prone to rupturing and developing stretch marks than softer, older skin. Older expectant mothers with skin that’s slightly loosened have more room to grow and are less at risk for severe stretch marks.
So, while being an older mother experiencing pregnancy may have its drawbacks—such as being labeled as a geriatric pregnancy or elderly primigravida (true story)—at least this is one way that being a mature mother-to-be can be an advantage.
You Gain Weight Quickly
If by the time you have your first OB-GYN appointment you find you’ve already gained five pounds, you are probably at greater risk of developing stretch marks. Some women experience metabolism changes that cause the pounds to be packed on during pregnancy, or they find themselves constantly ravenous while they are eating for two, leading to fast weight gain.
The faster you gain weight, the more likely you are to develop stretch marks because your skin doesn’t have time to stretch and adapt to your changing girth.
This also means that pregnant moms who are expecting twins or multiples are at greater risk of developing stretch marks because they will naturally gain weight faster, and typically gain more total weight during pregnancy, causing the likelihood of stretch marks to increase dramatically.
You Have Eczema and Use Corticosteroids
If you’ve been using lotions or creams containing corticosteroids to treat skin conditions such as eczema, you are at greater risk of developing stretch marks. Corticosteroids reduce the amount of collagen in your skin and eventually cause the skin layers to thin if used for a prolonged period of time. Less collagen means your skin isn’t as flexible and will be more likely to experience stretch marks during pregnancy.
While it really is true that stretch marks can be considered the stripes of a brave mama tiger, and they should never be cause for concern, shame, or embarrassment, if you want to do your best to prevent or minimize the appearance of stretch marks, there are some things you can do to help your body defend itself.
First, make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Even the best stretch mark creams can only help to seal in the natural hydration that’s present inside your skin cells. If your skin is dehydrated, the stretch mark cream or cocoa butter won’t be as effective.
Also, gently exfoliating the skin on your abdomen weekly will help to remove dead skin cells and leave your skin more open to absorbing the benefits of preventative creams and lotions that you are using to guard against stretch marks.
Getting plenty of vitamin C in your diet can also help to prevent or minimize stretch marks. So not only is orange juice good for the baby during your pregnancy, but it’s also good for your skin! Vitamin C is collagen-building, and collagen is essential for preventing stretch marks.
Finally, make sure you are beginning and ending each day with a good nourishing lotion to soothe and moisturize your growing bump. Smoothing lotion into your belly is also a good way to bond with the baby beneath the bump you are massaging with love.