One of the questions that always pops up whenever I post a pic of my bare bump is what do I use for stretch marks. As a physician and soon-to-be-dermatologist I can not tell you that there is any one product that will prevent stretch marks - there just isn't. And although people don't like to hear it, for the most part stretch marks have a lot to do with genetics (so those women who don't have them are mostly just lucky). But there are a few things that you can still do to decrease your chances of getting stretch marks, which I'll discuss today.
First a little science.
Stretch marks, or striae, are literally small tears in the dermis - the thick middle layer of your skin that has collagen and elastin (what gives our skin strength and elasticity). They're caused by rapid stretching of the skin - so they frequently occur in puberty, in bodybuilders, and in pregnancy. The faster and more drastic the stretching of the skin (ie the quicker you gain weight/size), the more likely you are to develop stretch marks. The genetics part comes with the collagen and elastin fibers - some people just have a better "build" of skin that can better withstand stretching. And some people don't.
What makes them worse.
I said above that the more drastic the stretching, the more likely the stretch marks, and women who gain more weight during pregnancy (and do so more quickly) have a higher chance of developing stretch marks. Other than the speed of growth, there is also evidence that higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) lead to more stretch marks. People with endocrine disorders that lead to higher levels of cortisol almost always have stretch marks. Topical creams that contain cortisol are known to cause thinning of the skin and stretch marks when used longer than directed. What else causes high cortisol levels? Stress. So as if you needed another reason not to stress, remember stretch marks. I don't think they've done any direct studies on it, but it would be safe to assume that women with high levels of stress (and therefore higher levels of cortisol) are more likely to develop stretch marks during pregnancy. Diet plays a role here as well, not only in the sense of gaining a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy, but also because certain foods are known to cause big cortisol spikes - mostly those that are high in sugar or simple carbs (ie processed white bread, chips, etc), and foods with trans fats. Try and stay away from these!
So two non-product things you can do to help prevent stretch marks? Eat a healthy diet (including prenatal vitamins and lots of water) and try to keep your stress level to a minimum (which is pretty much impossible in pregnancy, but we can at least try).
Products that may help.
As mentioned in the beginning, although there are many companies that want to convince you otherwise, there is no product that will prevent stretch marks. But there are many products on the market that can help at least soothe the stretching/itching feeling most of us mamas get with a growing belly, and theoretically some with ingredients that could help the collagen and elastic fibers in your skin. Some of these ingredients include fatty acids, vitamins A and E, rosehip oil, and more.
With my first pregnancy, I absolutely loved Mama Mio products - particularly their Tummy Rub Butter. This stuff smelled magical, felt so good applying, and made my belly feel like heaven. It was a little on the heavier side, but I was ok with that. What I ended up not being as ok with though was how quickly I went through it and how pricey it was. When I first tried it I bought it as part of a travel size sampler (always a great way to try new products), and when I got hooked I asked for some for my baby shower and got spoiled with another big tub. The stuff works great, and if you have the budget for it I'd recommend it. It's also free from parabens, petrolatum, synthetic fragrance and colorants, xenoestrogens, PEGs, phthalates and glycols, but it is not organic (if that's something that matters to you). Personally I'm not a huge organic person but many people are and there are lots of new organic products on the market as well.
This pregnancy I wanted to try something new and the lovely Boston-based ladies at Organic Bath sent me their Stress Less Organic Body Butter. For those who want something all organic, this butter might be for you. For me, I loved it because of the smell, I honestly have not smelled a more relaxing scent if that makes sense at all (it's a heavenly lavender). The ingredients are packed with skin-nurturing goodies and it just feels so good going on! Liv will rub this on my belly at night and we both love it :) I will say, though, that it was still a little to greasy for me and wearing it in the morning, although I like to feel moisturized I don't like to feel greasy as I head into work. So although this is a product I still use almost nightly, the search continued for a good daytime belly rub.
What I now use every single day after I get out the shower is this body butter by Earth Mama Angel Baby. For starters, as motivated as a person I am, I'm also lazy (or like to do things as efficiently as possible), so the pump bottle feature of this lotion is a huge seller - in the morning being able to just pump it twice from it's spot on the shelf and apply is huge (as opposed to taking out a tub, opening it, getting a scoop out with your fingers, closing it, putting away the tub - I know, I know I really am making myself sound lazy)! More importantly though this butter provides just the right amount of moisture for daytime use - it is very rich, but still somehow light and fast-absorbing. It's also all organic and has tons of good ingredients in it for stretching bellies. I'd say personally the only drawback is the smell; it looks like many reviewers love it, but for me there's something a little too sweet about it that was a little off-putting at first. Thankfully the smell is light and doesn't last long so it's never bothered me enough to not have it be my daily moisturizer. And for you budget-conscious mamas, the price is right on this one. Many women also swear by this cream, but I have yet to try it so can't really give my two cents. But it's up there on other peoples' lists!
Whatever cream you use, apply it to the growing areas of your body (for me the three B's - boobs, belly, butt) after lightly towel-drying post-shower. Your skin should still be damp but not wet. Other things that can help include using a light body scrub in the shower on these areas as well - no need to over exfoliate, but a light buffing can help get the blood flowing too. Many women as when they should start using creams for their bellies, and honestly the sooner you start the better. Most of this stuff is just preparing the skin as much as possible to stretch (like training for a marathon), so it's never too early to start taking good care of your skin! I like to continue using them after delivery as well as the skin has a lot of shrinking it now has to do.
Fading stretch marks.
I'll save this topic for another post, but I just wanted to mention here that there are many treatment options for fading stretch marks, and for the most part, most of them are not safe to use during pregnancy. So while your growing that baby just work on eating healthy, keeping stress levels as low as possible, and moisturizing like crazy. Save the fade creams and laser treatments for after though.
I hope this post could be helpful to some of you mamas with growing bellies! And honestly just remember that stretch marks are purely cosmetic, and many women wear them with pride (as they should)! They're a reminder of the amazing feat your body accomplished!