If there's one thing the media loves, it's pregnant celebrities. Open any gossip magazine or visit any entertainment blog and you'll be sure to find endless photographs of glamorous-looking public figures wearing short, tight-fitting dresses highlighting smooth, toned legs and neat, contained little baby bumps. A low-cut neckline emphasizes the infamous full and rounded pregnancy boobs, hair and makeup are flawless and the pedicure is immaculate. Grinning from ear to ear, they gush about how being pregnant makes them feel more womanly and sexy than ever before.
This can seem incredibly unfair when we're reading these stories sat at home in our sweatpants, feeling tired, fat and bloated and with stomachs so scarred from stretch marks that they're starting to resemble road maps. So how do these stunning Moms-to-be manage to avoid all the negative side effects of pregnancy? It's simple - they don't! When it comes to pregnancy, no woman is immune to the dreaded stretch mark.
Prepare To Stretch
Most of us are familiar with stretch marks. They are a very common complaint, affecting about 70% of all women and 40% of all men. They present themselves as narrow and wrinkly red or purple lines and can appear pretty much anywhere on the body. They are caused by the skin being stretched to a point beyond its natural elasticity from which it's unable to magically bounce back. The most frequent causes of stretch marks are puberty, obesity, weight loss and pregnancy; times when the skin is stretched significantly in quite a rapid time frame. Vulnerable areas are the breasts, arms, stomach, thighs and behind the knees.
Think about what happens to your body during pregnancy. Not only does your stomach expand to accommodate that growing baby, but your boobs will also grow as the milk ducts are stimulated to produce milk. Some women will also find that they put weight on rather easily in the legs and bum (according to folklore, weight gain in these areas means you're having a girl, so see if that's true for you!). Usually they won't be painful at all, though in severe cases they may become raw and itchy. If you're feeling embarrassed or self conscious about your stretch marks, then stop! They are completely normal and it's thought that around 90% of all pregnant women get them at some during those nine months. Yes, even celebrities!
The Magical Cure
I know this isn't what you want to hear, but unfortunately there is no 100% effective cure for stretch marks. The skin is made up of three different layers; the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutis. The part of the skin that's responsible for elasticity is the dermis, the middle layer. This is where stretch marks form. Although they may appear to be surface wounds, they are actually based a bit deeper, protected from the outside world by the epidermis. Therefore, no matter what treatments we use topically, they are never going to break through the outer layer of skin well enough to completely cure the condition. However, there are some natural remedies as well as over-the-counter creams which may help to keep the lines to a minimum.
Many well-known cosmetics brands sell creams, gels, lotions and oils which claim to prevent or reduce stretch marks, some products are even aimed specifically at pregnant women. These treatments claim to work by improving the elasticity of the skin, but there is currently no research proving that these concoctions are even slightly effective. On the plus side, they do tend to contain some good quality body creams which are great for keeping that baby belly soft and smooth. So, are these creams the magic cure we've all been waiting for, or are they simply glorified moisturizers? Give them a try and decide for yourself.
Some natural "alternative" treatments also claim to reduce the appearance of stretch marks. The most popular is lavender which is thought to promote new skin growth while disposing of the damaged skin underneath. Once again, there is no research scientifically proving this. It's worth a try though as lavender is safe to use throughout pregnancy and smells good in the bath!
Even though statistics say you will most likely experience stretch marks during pregnancy, that doesn't mean you should just succumb to the inevitable without a fight. There are some simple things you can do that will help to minimize the risk, the most important being to watch what you eat. Obviously, if you believe the myth that you need to be eating for two, you're going to put extra weight on a lot quicker and be even more vulnerable to developing stretch marks. If you eat sensibly and adopt a gentle but regular exercise routine (swimming is great during pregnancy) you should be able to stay in control of your weight gain. You should aim to gain no more than 40 lbs during pregnancy.
The Good News
The part you've all been waiting for: stretch marks are only temporary! Once the baby is born and your uterus starts to contract back to its original size (keep in mind it can take up to a year to completely regain your pre-pregnancy weight) your skin will be under much less pressure and strain. Although stretch marks will never fully disappear (they are scars, after all) they will become smaller, narrower and, most importantly, they will fade to a silvery color which you may find blends in well with your natural coloring. However, once your baby is born, you won't mind about the small reminder of your pregnancy on your stomach and you should be proud to show off your battle wounds!