Pregnancy brings body changes, but one not so welcome is stretch marks. There are two theories as to why stretch marks develop. One theory is that when a person gains weight quickly the skin stretches to make room for added tissue. The other is that stretch marks are a result of hormonal changes. According to Dr. Eric Bernstein, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, pregnancy and weight gain bring hormonal changes that affect inflammation of the skin. Whatever the cause of stretch marks, you can take steps to prevent them.
Preventing Pregnancy Stretch Marks
Ask your obstetrician/gynecologist to prescribe a cream with retinoic acid. One such cream, Tretinoin, was studied by the Department of Dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical Center, and results showed that use of retinoic acid cream early in pregnancy resulted in a significant improvement in the occurrence and healing of pregnancy stretch marks.
Drink plenty of water during your pregnancy. Dehydration can cause inflammation of the skin's tissues. Not only does water help keep your skin healthy, it is also needed for the necessary blood volume increase that occurs with pregnancy, according to a report by the American Pregnancy Association, as well as to prevent constipation and fatigue.
Keep your skin soft by moisturizing. Many moisturizers have unwanted chemicals that can be absorbed into the skin. Petroleum jelly is one of the best moisturizers that protects skin and keeps it soft but is not absorbed. After your shower or bath, instead of toweling off first, reach for the petroleum jelly. Applying it to damp skin seals the water moisture in to be absorbed by the skin.
Eat a diet rich in anti-oxidant vitamins, such as vitamins A, C and E. Foods such as berries; apples; plums; kidney beans; and fresh green, leafy vegetables are all loaded with anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidant foods help with the body's production of collagen and elastin, both of which are necessary to maintain the elasticity and health of the skin.
Keep your weight in check. Giving in to cravings can cause weight gain, which leads to stretch marks through excess fatty tissue. That excess weight can also bring about hormonal changes, which can cause stretch marks, according to Dr. Bernstein. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can also increase the risk of gestational diabetes, which can lead to skin issues, making a woman more susceptible to stretch marks. In a study reported by "Diabetes," a journal of the American Diabetes Association, lab rats with diabetes had a significant decline in the production of collagen.
Exercise. While a high-impact routine is probably off limits during pregnancy, even a simple walk around the block will benefit your body. Exercise helps keep excess weight off and improves your mood, and, according to "Consumer Reports" magazine, it helps the body regulate hormones and prevent the onset of diabetes. Hormone regulation is important in avoiding stretch marks. Speak to your OB/GYN about what type of exercise is approved for you.
Start now. If you've just discovered you're pregnant, or are planning a pregnancy, don't wait for your belly to grow or your first stretch mark to appear before taking action. Caring for your skin, eating a healthy diet and maintaining your weight before your belly begins to grow can help reduce the risk of developing stretch marks.
Find a friend to go walking with or join a low-impact pregnancy exercise class, such as water aerobics.
If you experience any irritation, inflammation or redness of the skin after using retinoic acid cream or petroleum jelly, discontinue use and contact your physician.