Stretch Marks – not as simple as you thought.

Stretch Marks. Ugh. Women all over the world lament this common side effect of pregnancy.  The majority of women will get some stretch marks during pregnancy, usually appearing at around 30 weeks. But whether or not you get them, and how many you get, depends a lot more on your genetics than on how much you spend on lotions and oils to prevent them.

Stretch marks first appear as red or purplish indented wavy lines that are not uncomfortable although they may appear so. Most people believe they are simply caused by the skin stretching, but it is a little more complicated than that. Most commonly found on the abdomen during pregnancy, they may also appear on the breasts, thighs, upper arms or hips. They do not cause any health risk and are considered only a cosmetic issue.
Stretch marks are actually scars formed by the tearing (not stretching) of the dermis, the middle layer within your skin; when it is asked to stretch farther and faster than its elasticity allows. Women are often told that lotions and oils will prevent stretch marks. There are myriad pregnancy treatments that claim to prevent them, but randomized trials have not shown any effective treatment. These products will, however; increase the moisture level of your skin, prevent drying and itching, and relax you with a nice massage when applied.

There are certain factors that increase your susceptibility to getting stretch marks.

  • Being Female –  Women are more likely to get them than men.   Could this be because we are also more likely to get pregnant?
  • Family History – if your mom got stretch marks you probably will too.  This is due not only to the genetics of skin tissue, but to the genetics of hormone function as well.
  • Being Young –  The younger you are at the time of your pregnancy the higher your risk – this is probably related to the hormones of puberty, as teenagers are at the highest risk.
  • Being overweight – Stretch mark formation is directly related to hormones found in fatty deposits.  So starting out overweight, as well as gaining too much weight during your pregnancy both increase you risk of stretch marks.
  • Using Corticosteroids –  the hormones found in these medications act on your skin the same way the ones produced by your body do.

Hormones have a lot more to do with stretch marks than stretching does. This is part of the reason they are more likely to occur during adolescence and pregnancy, times of hormone fluctuation. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It decreases the elasticity of skin by reducing collagen and elastin formation; weakening the support system of the Dermis layer. In laboratory rats, cortisol-induced collagen loss in the skin is ten times greater than in any other tissue. Stretch marks most commonly appear around 30 weeks gestation. Coincidentally, increased fetal production of cortisol between weeks 30 and 32 initiates production of fetal lung surfactant to promote maturation of the lungs.
The role of cortisol hormones is a very complex subject and they greatly influence our metabolism and health in many ways. If you want to lower your risk of getting stretch marks, lowering your Cortisol levels is a great way to start, and will provide other health benefits as well.
Always remember to be kind to yourself and your body. As you look at your stretch marks remember that more than half or the people on this earth wear them. Think of the amazing thing your body has done – and the gift of life and love it has given you. What a small price these fading lines are. They are more stripes of honor and reminders of our joys than scars or blemishes. For every line on your belly there are hundreds of women who would wear them on their face if only they could be a mother like you.

8 Great Ways to Decrease Your Cortisol Levels During Pregnancy

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce cortisol levels – Salmon, flaxseed, chia and walnuts all contain these fatty acids.
  2. Music therapy can reduce cortisol levels in certain situations.
  3. Massage therapy can reduce cortisol.
  4. Laughing, and the experience of humor, can lower cortisol levels.
  5. Black tea may hasten recovery from a high-cortisol condition.
  6. Regular dancing has been shown to lead to significant decreases in salivary cortisol concentrations.
  7. Avoid caffeine – it has been associated with increased cortisol levels.
  8. Get plenty of rest – Sleep deprivation is associated with increased cortisol levels.