How to Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy

Stretch marks are a common annoyance during pregnancy. Here's a trimester-by-trimester guide to preventing them, plus tips for getting rid of stretch marks after giving birth if they do show up.

stretch marks on woman's stomach
Photo: Michael Heim/Shutterstock

Stretch marks develop in nine out of ten pregnancies, usually in the sixth or seventh month. These pinkish streaks around stomachs, breasts, or hips happen when collagen and elastin (the fibers that keep your skin taut) stretch and snap during pregnancy due to the pressure of rapid weight gain. You have the best chance of reducing the appearance of stretch marks when they're new. Once scars fade to white, they're extremely difficult to treat.

Whether you get them depends mostly on your pregnancy and your genetics, says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D. If your mom or grandma developed stretch marks, you're more likely to get them too. While there's no surefire way to prevent stretch marks, these tips can keep them to a minimum during your pregnancy.

How to Avoid Stretch Marks During Pregnancy

First things first: there's no shame at all in developing stretch marks during pregnancy and if you do get stretch marks, you're not alone and you didn't do anything "wrong." Stretch marks are largely genetically determined, so you really don't have control over getting stretch marks. And some people get them even without ever being pregnant.

But even if you're destined to get stretch marks, there may be some things you can do to support your skin during pregnancy, such as:

  • Use stretch mark cream approved by your doctor.
  • Aim to gain weight within the recommended ranges.
  • Avoid spending too much time in the sun.
  • Use pregnancy-safe self-tanner to conceal stretch marks if you wish.
  • Talk to a dermatologist about laser treatments after pregnancy.

First Trimester

Once that pregnancy test comes back positive, start moisturizing the areas where stretch marks are most likely to develop—your belly, lower back, breasts, and hips. Stretch marks occur when the fibers just underneath the skin's surface break apart due to the pressure of rapid weight gain. Moisturizer helps maintain skin's elasticity, making it less likely to tear when your body starts expanding, says Debra Jaliman, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City.

In the morning, slather on a rich cream that provides lasting hydration. Boppy Bloom Stretch Mark Cream contains coconut oil, shea butter, and vitamin E. At night, add a few drops of a skin-nourishing oil like Bio-Oil to a warm bath so you can moisturize without lifting a finger. Another way to defend your skin: Aim to gain weight slowly and steadily without putting on more than your doctor recommends.

Another tip: Keep your weight in check.Gaining a healthy amount of pregnancy weight (25 to 35 pounds for normal-weight women) may help keep stretch marks to a minimum, since this prevents your skin from overstretching.

Second Trimester

If despite your best efforts you start seeing red (lines, that is), take comfort in knowing that you have the best chance of reducing their appearance when they're new, says Dr. Jaliman. Once scars fade to white, they're extremely difficult to treat.

Mederma Stretch Marks Therapy is safe to use starting in the second trimester, and has been shown in clinical studies to significantly minimize scarring. Just keep in mind that you have to be diligent about applying it daily, and it may take up to a month to see an improvement. While you wait, camouflage the red with a product like Dermablend Leg and Body Cover SPF 15. It won't rub off on your clothes.

After Baby Arrives

Scars are more noticeable on soft skin, so now's the time to incorporate a firming serum into your routine, if desired. We like Everdeen's Golden Belly Serum. It's safe to use while breastfeeding and contains a naturally derived ingredient called centella asiatica, which offers a skin-tightening effect and combats stretch marks.

After delivery, stretch marks usually fade to a light, silvery hue, and may be hardly noticeable over time. But if you're still unhappy with the way they look, a dermatologist might be able to help. Prescription Retin-A or Renova creams to minimize the appearance of your stretch marks. These are most effective when the marks are new, though, so if you're interested, talk to a dermatologist soon after baby arrives!

Another tip: If you need to conceal stretch marks, try appealing self-tanner, since stretch marks are much more visible on pale skin.

More Ways to Get Rid of Stretch Marks

If topical treatments aren't doing the trick to improve your stretch marks, scheduling a series of pulsed dye laser treatments is a safe option even while you're nursing. But it'll cost you: A single treatment can range anywhere from $350 to $1,000, depending on where you live.

Remember, there's always another option: Embrace them! After all, stretch marks show up in places most people don't see—unless you spend a lot of your time in a bikini!

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