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Who develops stretch marks and why?

Advice on why stretch marks develop during pregnancy, who is likely to be susceptible to them plus information on stretch mark prevention, treatment and removal.
The vast majority of women develop stretch marks at some point during their pregnancy, usually sometime within the 6th or 7th months. The appearance of stretch marks varies considerably between individuals, as does their colour and severity. Initially, stretch marks may appear as raised red or purple lines on the skin although over time they usually fade to much less noticeable flat, silvery lines.

Stretch marks are medically known as "striae" and appear anywhere on the body where skin has been stretched greatly over a short period of time, although they are usually more prevalent on parts of the body where fat is stored. During pregnancy, stretch marks are most likely to appear around the stomach area, due to its expansion, although they may develop on the breasts, thighs, buttocks and upper arms as a result of natural weight gain during pregnancy.

Stretch marks develop due to a loss of elasticity in the skin as a result of over stretching. The skin comprises 3 layers, the top layer (epidermis), the middle layer (the dermis) and the inner layer (the subcutaneous layer). The dermis layer's function is to support the skin and keep it firm; it also houses the blood vessels that transport nutrients to skin cells.

The dermis is made up of a network of elastic fibres that enable the skin to stretch with our bodies, however when the body expands greatly over a short period of time (such as during pregnancy), the fibres weaken and may break, resulting in the thinning of the skin. The appearance of stretch marks may be attributed to the exposure of the blood vessels in the dermis layer through the thin top layer of skin.

75-90% of pregnant women develop stretch marks (NHS Direct) and although the factors contributing to their development is not known for sure, current thinking suggests that it is due to a combination of genetics, production of the hormone corticosteroid, hydration and nutrition. For instance, those with naturally darker skin are less susceptible to stretch marks, possibly due to the higher melanin content of their skin. Those whose bodies produce higher levels of corticosteroid, a hormone which decreases levels of collagen in the skin will be more susceptible to stretch marks as they will have less naturally elasticated skin.

Pregnant women who drink plenty of water and eat a nutritious, balanced diet will also be less susceptible to stretch marks as hydrated, healthy skin is more elastic and therefore more equipped to stretch as the body grows.

Stretch marks are not harmful and should begin to fade within 6 months of the birth, however for more serious occurrences of stretch marks, there are several treatment options that may help although none should be undertaken without consultation with a doctor first.

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Im 33 weeks and have been really lucky. I havent put on any wieght other than my stomach, which is all front! in the past month you couldnt tell i was pregnant from the back or front. it was only when i was at an angle, you realise there was a belly! I've had noooo stretch marks which im incredibly thankfull for. I dont believe it has anything to do with fancy creams or oils, as i rarely remember to cream my stomach when i should. I think its down to skin type. Either way, if i did have stretch marks, its the sign that im a mummy!!!!
by alliey 6th Sep 2010, 10:10am
I was quite obviously pregnant at about 15-16 weeks, and have put on quite a lot of weight throughout my pregnancy, but managed to get away without any stretch marks at all.......untill last week! Im now 37 weeks gone (and hugggggge) , I have stretch marks at the top of my thighs, and on each bum cheek ;) But they are not too bad, so Im happy. Good luck everyone! x
by heatherberry 7th Sep 2009, 11:32am
My belly grew quite quickly. By about 20 weeks you could tell I was definately pregnant - without a doubt! I started getting stretch marks at about 22 - 23 weeks and they've just kept getting worse, even though I'm using fairly expensive stretch mark creams and oils, as well as doing light exercise and eating well. Oh well, I suppose we aren't all lucky enough to avoid them! Emma
by emdete 27th Apr 2009, 9:35am