Of all the things you're looking forward to on the road to motherhood, we're pretty sure stretch marks don't make the list. But the honest truth is, you'll probably get them. Research shows nine out of 10 women develop stretch marks during pregnancy—usually in the sixth or seventh month, says Debra Jaliman, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. If you can say "yes" to one of these contributing factors, it's safe to assume you'll likely be fighting this skin battle. The, ahem, silver lining? You're definitely not alone!
Genetics play a huge role in almost any type of human condition, and stretch marks are no exception. If your mom developed them during her pregnancy, it could be because her skin naturally lacks elastin (the connective tissue skin needs in order not to tear). So it's not a stretch (no pun intended) to expect that your skin could suffer similar consequences.
There are lots of good medical reasons to start a family in early adulthood, but doing so to avoid getting stretch marks isn't one of them. Think of youthful skin like a new rubber band: It's firm and taut, so when stretched too far, it's likely to tear under the pressure, says Mona Gohara, M.D., a dermatologist in New Haven, Connecticut. As skin matures, it naturally begins to lose firmness, so it doesn't have to stretch as much to account for your growing body.
Stretch marks occur when your skin can't keep up with how quickly your body is expanding.
Doing your best to gain weight gradually during pregnancy is perhaps the one thing that's within your control as far as prevention goes. You should also try not to gain more than the recommended amount: 25 to 35 pounds if you were a normal weight pre-pregnancy is what ob-gyns advise.
Hormonal changes can contribute to increased fragility of the skin, making it more prone to tearing, says Dendy Engelman, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. If you can still see the scars from your teen years on your hips, abdomen, breasts, and buttocks, chances are good history will repeat itself. Stacie T., 35, a first-time mom of an 8-month-old girl in Silver Spring, Maryland, says she got stretch marks on her breasts during puberty, but it wasn't until the seventh month of her pregnancy that she started seeing the little squiggles on her lower abdomen. "I felt like it happened overnight," she recalls. Now when she looks at herself in the mirror, she admits, "They bother me. But I try to reframe it in my head: I have a happy, healthy, beautiful baby. If this is the sacrifice I had to make to get her, who cares?"
Despite these signs, you'll still probably want to do everything you can to prevent them, and dermatologists agree your best defense is to moisturize twice a day with a rich cream or oil. If prevention doesn't work, there are some options that may help reduce their appearance, such as pulsed dye laser treatments. But there's another option too: Adopt Stacie T.'s attitude—and wear those battle scars with pride.