Pregnancy, though a beautiful stage of a woman’s life, leaves behind its marks, one of the most obvious being stretch marks. A woman’s body undergoes many rapid changes when pregnant and stretch marks are the inevitable consequence of that change. Almost 90% of women develop stretch marks, also called as striae distensae (or striae gravidarum when they appear during pregnancy) during pregnancy.
In general, they appear in the later stage of pregnancy like the 6th or 7th month, but in some cases, they are noticeable even in the first trimester. These indented streaks-like marks can remain on your body long after delivery, no matter if you’ve undergone a normal delivery or C-section.
But that does not mean you have to live with them. Here we will help you deal with the stretch marks with:
- Understanding how stretch marks form. The causes behind stretch marks.
- When they first make an appearance and where
- Dealing with them topically. Treatment of stretch marks.
- Yoga asanas that are effective in dealing with pregnancy stretch marks
- The right exercise regime to reduce stretch marks
How do stretch marks form?
The tissues of your skin are adapting and changing with the size of your body all the time. But when your body expands rapidly, your skin is pulled tightly over the newly formed body mass. Unable to stretch as quickly as your expanding body during pregnancy, the underlying tissues of your skin tears apart. This leaves behind the red/purple/pink scars visible on the surface of the skin. Although they don’t look impressive on your body or might induce itching sometimes or cause a dip in your self-confidence, stretch marks are absolutely harmless for you as well as your baby.
When to expect when stretch marks start appearing on your body
Stretch marks can show up on different parts of your body at different stages of pregnancy.
You may find your breasts to be the first victim as they can start expanding as early as 6-8 weeks. Next comes your belly or stomach that starts developing when you can feel that your bump has begun to show and finally you can notice stretch marks on your back, arms, thighs in the final stage of pregnancy.
There are many home remedies that a pregnant woman can perform to prevent stretch marks but in most of the cases, the formation of stretch marks become unavoidable.
The first victim of stretch marks are generally your breasts. This is mostly followed by the thigh, butt and hips. But with exercises and skincare, they can be faded out.
Skin care tips that can help reduce stretch marks
1. Stay hydrated: Drink enough water to keep your skin healthy and moisturised. Dry skin is more prone to stretch marks.
- Start your morning with a glass of warm water
- Ensure you have enough liquids through the day. Other nourishing liquids good for skin are tender coconut water, lemon water, lassi, soups (cold or hot) and herbal teas.
- A simple way to incorporate more liquids in your diet is to have more watery daals and vegetable curries
2. Healthy diet: Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Focus on fruits rich in Vitamin C, E, and Zinc such as citrus fruits, mangoes, berries, apricots etc
- Also, load up on proteins to refurbish your skin with its lost nutrition. Eggs are a very skin-friendly food and easily accessible too. Avoid junk, fried, and processed food.
- Avoid soda and caffeinated drinks as they cause dehydration of the skin. This not only exacerbates stretch marks but can also lead to dryness of hair and hair fall. Skip your regular coffee in favor of a milkshake or smoothie with fruits blended in it.
- Seeds, nuts and dry fruits are loaded with skin-friendly anti-oxidants. Have a handful of any one, every day, on a rotation basis. Very soon the glow on your skin will be a standing testimony of their goodness.
- If you don’t savour the taste of seeds or dry fruits, crush and add to your milkshake of smoothie. Blended in you will still get their goodness minus the taste.
3. Moisturise yourself: One main reason behind stretch marks is lack of moisture in the skin. Dry skin tissue is more prone to tearing and hence more prominent stretch marks.
- Throughout pregnancy as well as post delivery massage your skin with a light oil or a skin safe moisturizer. Coconut oil is believed to help lighten any marks including stretch marks.
- Some OTC moisturizers, rich in vitamin E, are specifically meant to deal with stretch marks. They are mostly safe to use but you may want to do a patch test initially.
- Get regular massages and oil rubs doe by a professionally-trained, pre-natal nurse. It will not only be relaxing but will also help reduce the onset of stretch marks.
- Some natural moisturizers are castor oil and aloe vera. Gently rub either, on your body in circular motions, till well absorbed in the skin.
4. Relax: Keep yourself stress-free to let your skin heal itself. When our body releases stress hormones, they often interfere with the body’s self-healing process. This delays the skin’s recovery as well.
- Practice regular meditation to keep yourself relaxed and stay positive.
- Ensure a good night’s sleep to give your skin repair time.
- Enjoy your pregnancy as much as you want to.
5. Physiotherapy Massage: Apart from regular skin care routine and exercise or yoga, physiotherapy massages that involve using olive oil or a light ayurvedic oil are known to help get rid of stretch marks as well.
- The massages involve long or short hand strokes, kneading of muscles, and massages in circular motions etc. These motions enable the oils to penetrate deep inside the skin and mositurize it from within. With regular massages, you will be able to see a dramatic difference in stretch marks.
- But as is the case with most regimens, ensure you take these massages only under a trained physiotherapist. Also, apprise her of your skin condition, surgery, medical history beforehand.
How to reduce stretch marks with yoga
Here are some of the yoga poses you can practice after delivery, that work magic on your stretch marks as well as on your postpartum body :
This pose helps tighten the side trunk and abdomen muscles and reduces side trunk fat to minimise stretch marks. Trikoasana or triangle post is a great relaxant too.
- Start in mountain pose and then with exhalation set your feet wide apart.
- Set your right foot to 90 degree angle.
- Raise both arms parallel to the ground. Turn and look at your right arm.
- Now move the upper body sideways and bend downwards towards the right foot reaching your right hand down towards the floor. Keep the spine elongated. The other arm should point towards the ceiling.
- Place your right palm on your shin or on the ground beside the right foot. Rotate the upper body towards the ceiling and fix your gaze on your left palm. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds.
- Look at your right foot again and with inhalation come up in standing position. Repeat the same on the other side.
Staying hydrated, keeping the skin moisturized is the key to by passing stretch marks. Dry skin tends to split faster and hence stretch marks show up more.
Pranayama (deep breathing)
Pranayam or deep breathing through nose and exhaling through the mouth, in small bouts, helps retain the original muscle strength. Ideally, sit straight in a comfortable pose and practice deep breathing. Ensure, your breath goes right upto your navel and when exhale completely to let out all the breath.
Suryanamaskar or sun salutation
This yoga poses can reduce the fat deposit around the abdomen and trunk. It also helps maintain the contour of the muscles to reduce the appearance stretch marks.
- Stand straight with hands folded in prayer pose. Inhale and exhale.
- With inhalation stretch your hands upwards and pull back from the shoulders.
- With exhalation bend forward till your palms touch the ground flat. Rest your head near your knees. Elbows bent. Keep your legs firmly grounded.
- Slowly stretch your right foot backward till the right knee touches the ground. Place your palms flat on the ground. Feel the stretch between your legs. Look up and inhale.
- Move the other leg back. Lift right knee off the floor bringing the whole body in a straight line (Dandasana). Hold your breath in this position.
- Exhaling, drop the chest on the floor. Arc the hips upwards and slide forward, your toes, knees, chest, chin and and palms should touch the floor.
- Lift your head up. Straighten your arms, pull shoulders back, come into bhujangasana or cobra pose, inhale deeply. Look upwards for maximum stretch.
- Exhaling, move head down and lift your back up. Come into an inverted V position, Adho mukha svanasna (downward facing dog).
- Move right foot forward between the hands. Bend your knee, lift the head up, keeping the palms on the floor. Bring left knee to the ground and feel the stretch between your legs. This is similar to pose no. 4 except we do it with the opposite leg. Inhale.
- Move the left foot forward. Bend again, with palms touching the floor, and exhale.
- Come into standing position. Lift hands up, overhead. Stretch backwards. Inhale.
- Exhale and come back to tadasana or mountain pose. Hands should be folded again in prayer pose.
Repeat all the twelve steps but move the opposite foot this time.
Ardhachandrasana (half moon pose)
Tone abdomen muscles, thigh muscles and hips with this pose. As the body gets toned, the stretch marks will reduce.
- Stand in mountain pose. Exhale and set your feet wide apart.
- Set your right foot to 90-degree angle.
- Turn your upper body towards the right side, bend sideways down towards the foot, place your palm on the floor to balance.
- Keep your left hand on your left hip. With exhalation, bend right leg and move your right palm forward keeping it 12 inches ahead of right foot on the little toe side. Gradually shift all your weight on the right leg.
- Straighten right leg with exhalation. Simultaneously lift up and straighten your left leg parallel to the ground. Keep your right leg and hand firmly anchored on the ground and stretch out your left leg.
- Gently move your left arm upwards balancing your torso all the while. Look at your left palm. Give yourself a good stretch. Draw the energy right from the floor through your right leg upwards.
- Hold the pose for 30-60 seconds. Then move your head down, bring the left hand down, inhale, and then lift yourself up into a standing position.
Repeat on the other side.
Points to remember when practising these Asanas:
- For maximum results, do these asanas twice daily. Once in the morning and then repeat in the evening.
- Select a place with adequate ventilation and fresh air.
- Wear loose clothes. Cotton fabric is preferred.
- Feel comfortable when doing the stretches. Stretch only as much as your body allows. Then slowly you can exert yourself more.
Some more exercises to tone muscles and reduce stretch marks
- Strengthening exercises such as leg lifts. Lie flat on back on a mat. Raise both legs straight in the air at 45 degrees. Hold position for 10 seconds. Repeat ten times twice a day. Use weights like weight cuffs, on your ankles, (upto 5 kg) in the same position if you can.
- Crunches and lunges are also good to tone abdomen muscles.
- Make a routine of regular walking or jogging to reduce excess fat deposits and shape up the body.
- Most experts swear by advantages of swimming. It not only tones the entire body at one go, but is a great stress buster as well. If you have access to a clean, hygienic pool, give it a try for its multiple benefits.
At the end of it remember, stretch marks though unsightly are not really something to feel ashamed of. They are a testimony to the strong body you have and should not affect your self confidence in any way.
Be realistic and realise that though you can reduce their appearance and they will fade away gradually, it will be a slow process. It is better to enjoy your pregnancy and post delivery joys of your newborn than aim for a model like body of magazine covers. They are more photo-shopped that we would like to admit!