The saving grace of a very long, miserable, first pregnancy was the fact that nary a stretch mark was to be found on my body. Not a one. I figured it was God’s trade-off for a brutal case of morning sickness that only let up around month seven and then karate chopped its way back into my life at the end of month eight like Jean-Claude Van Damme on crack.
And so it’s been with this pregnancy: no stretch marks. I secretly gloated to myself that my stomach skin was as smooth as when I was twenty-five.
Perhaps that was my downfall. Gloating.
God must’ve sensed my pride and hurled bolts of lightning my way in the form of three gnarly, purple welts zigzagging down my stomach.
I’ve heard mamas call stretch marks their war wounds. They’re triggered when skin is stretched to the utmost, which occurs when growth is so rapid that your skin’s elastic fibers break. They scar our bellies, boobs, behinds and thighs.
Because I haven’t fallen victim before, I hadn’t paid attention to lotions and oils touting their stretch mark prevention qualities. I didn’t use a thing during the first pregnancy save for the occasional, hasty belly rubbing of my usual lotion – the cheapest stuff I can find at Walmart. But now… I’m looking into the matter a bit more. Olive oil, cocoa butter, certain vitamins, fancy-schmancy creams hawked on late-night infomercials…
Can stretch marks really be prevented?
I hate to tell you this, but The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says no. Like I said, stretch marks are mostly due to rapid weight gain. Research has also shown that genetics and race (skin color) play a role in stretch marks. “There’s not much you can do about these other than monitor your weigh gain,” says Dr. Laura Riley, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of “You and Your Baby” (2006). In a 2008 interview Riley told the New York Times, “Various creams and lotions are sold to prevent stretch marks from developing or getting worse, but the jury is out on whether they work.”
Many people, some of my closest friends among them, swear that vitamin E creams, expensive oils, salves and emollients help, but a lot of women who religiously used those products still got those marks. I’m thinking the women who used the creams and didn’t get the marks wouldn’t have got them anyway.
So all that cocoa butter you’ve been rubbing on your belly may be for naught. Well, your skin is probably softer than your fetus’ bottom, but likely, it ain’t preventing stretch marks. The key seems to be diminishing the stretch marks after they’ve occurred. You can do laser treatments, microdermabrasion or Retin-A, especially early on when the lines are red and purple. Studies have found that certain topical creams can lighten stretch marks as well as reduce their size.
And hey, keep on with the cocoa butter if it makes you feel better. It certainly can’t hurt. It’ll definitely keep your poor, stretched skin from itching so much. Take heart, if you can’t afford fancy treatments, you have something for free that makes all stretch marks look better: time. Stretch marks will flatten, fade and lighten over time.