Many women don’t even think about stretch marks until the second or third trimester of pregnancy, when they begin to see thin, red or purple lines creep across their abdomens. Following delivery, the worsening appearance of these stretch marks, coupled with the suddenly sagging abdominal skin that shows up, may seem discouraging, especially amid the dirty diapers and sleepless nights with which you’re dealing. Learn basic facts about post-pregnancy loose skin and stretch marks so you can deal with them promptly and effectively.
Stretch marks and loose skin occur when your unborn baby’s rapid physical development enlarges your uterus and pulls your skin tightly. Called striae in medical circles, stretch marks occur in close to 90 percent of pregnancies, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Although you can see stretch marks develop during pregnancy, loose abdominal skin won’t become evident until after you deliver your baby. It varies in severity from woman to woman, but as a general rule, loose belly skin is typically worse if you gave birth to a large baby or experienced a pregnancy with multiples.
Collagen, a fibrous, stretchy protein present in various parts of your body, including your skin, is a key ingredient responsible for your skin’s suppleness and stretchiness. According to Dr. Jeffery Weinsweig, author of the book “Plastic Surgery Secrets,” stretching in your dermis during pregnancy disrupts these collagen fibers. The top skin layer--the epidermis--remains intact, but the stretched dermis can’t retain its shape, often resulting in tears--stretch marks--and loose skin.
Loose skin and stretch marks that appear after pregnancy often deliver a blow to the self-esteem of many post-pregnancy women. If they're already suffering from the baby blues, which occur as a result of the hormone shifts following the baby’s birth, many women start to look at their bodies with intense dislike. Know that stretch marks and loose post-partum abdominal skin are a normal part of pregnancy for a lot of women.
Genetics plays a key role in determining whether or not you develop stretch marks and loose skin after pregnancy, according to Kip Kozlowski, a certified nurse midwife and coauthor of “The Everything Health Guide to Postpartum Care Book.” Because that’s a factor you can’t control, focus on the other factors that you can affect, including diet, exercise and proper skin care. During pregnancy, eat a healthy diet to provide essential nutrition without gaining unnecessary weight. Exercise regularly to keep your body in shape, sticking with low-impact activities, such as walking, to minimize possible stress on your baby. Slather obstetrician-approved moisturizers onto your belly throughout pregnancy, especially as you hit the second trimester.
In many cases, loose abdominal skin and stretch marks gradually lessen over time. If you’d like to try a cream for your stretch marks, use a college-rebuilding tretinoin cream within six weeks of getting the stretched skin, but don't start until after pregnancy. Other solutions that may help diminish the appearance of stretch marks include laser therapy and microdermabrasion. Generally, the only solution for long-lasting loose tummy skin is cosmetic surgery, namely an abdominoplasty. Often called a tummy tuck, this operation involves the surgical removal of your extra abdominal skin, according to the UCLA Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
- American Pregnancy Association: Skin Changes During Pregnancy
- “Plastic Surgery Secrets”; Dr. Jeffrey Weinzweig; 1999
- “The Everything Health Guide to Postpartum Care Book”; Kip Kozlowski and Meagan Francis; 2007
- UCLA Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: Tummy Tuck