The Skinny on Stretch Marks

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You know stretch marks are a common feature of pregnancy, but a few facts about the skin condition may surprise you.

Fact No. 1: Stretch marks have another name. They are also known as striae gravidarum in the medical community.

Fact No. 2: Their name reflects their cause. Stretch marks may occur when the body grows too fast for the skin to keep up, causing the dermis—the middle layer of the skin—to stretch past its breaking point. Stretch marks are the stripe-like scars that result from dermal tearing. The scars are most often associated with pregnancy, but obesity, growth spurts and certain diseases can cause them, too.

Fact No. 3: Clinicians are not sure if hormones play a role in stretch marks. It is thought that elevated hormone levels during pregnancy cause the skin to absorb more water and loosen the connections between collagen fibers—important proteins in tissues. As a result, the dermis may be more susceptible to tearing when the body expands.

Fact No. 4: Few expectant mothers complete pregnancy without stretch marks. Nearly all pregnant women develop them by the third trimester, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

• Fact No. 5: Stretch marks do not only occur on the belly. They can also appear on the breasts, thighs and buttocks.

• Fact No. 6: Stretch marks come in different colors. They occur in varying shades of red, pink, purple or brown. Skin tone may influence the color.

• Fact No. 7: Stretch marks have a “life cycle.” The scars typically start out pink and stringy—and, sometimes, itchy—before growing longer, wider and darker. Their hues often dim to white after pregnancy.

• Fact No. 8: Experts doubt the effectiveness of purported treatments and preventive measures. There is little evidence to suggest topical products prevent stretch marks or cause them to fade.

• Fact No. 9: Focusing on the joy to come puts stretch marks in perspective. Avoid fixating on temporary cosmetic inconveniences—instead, remember that they’re a normal part of pregnancy. After you deliver your baby, most stretch marks will become fainter in color and less prominent.

You’re in the home stretch! Helena Regional Medical Center offers childbirth classes. Visit Helena Regional Medical Center or call (870) 338-5800 to learn more.