pregnant woman with stretch marks

What Causes Stretch Marks During Pregnancy?

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
August 09, 2023

Your skin goes through a lot during pregnancy! Stretch marks are one of many changes that can happen.

Officially known as striae gravidarum, stretch marks are scars that appear where the skin has stretched or shrunk quickly. Stretch marks can appear in a variety of colors, including brown, pink, red, and purple.

How Common Are Stretch Marks in Pregnancy?

Stretch marks are extremely common. Research suggests that up to 90% percent of pregnant people get them.

Why Do Stretch Marks Happen During Pregnancy?

“As the uterus is growing and the baby is growing, it causes a tremendous amount of stretching and expansion of the skin,” says Abdulla Al Khan, M.D. Al Khan is a board-certified ob-gyn and director of maternal-fetal medicine and surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

Hormones are also a factor. During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone increases. This relaxes collagen, a protein related to skin elasticity. “Because it relaxes collagen, it makes the body more sensitive and prone to stretching,” says Kia Hollis, a certified nurse midwife at Mercy Medical Center’s Metropolitan OB/GYN in Baltimore.

Will I Get Stretch Marks?

It’s not totally understood why some people develop stretch marks and others don’t. But both Al Khan and Hollis say genetics are probably a factor. “So if your mom or your grandmother had stretch marks, you may be more likely to get stretch marks,” says Hollis.

Stretch marks commonly appear on the belly or abdomen, breasts and/or thighs. Those areas tend to grow most rapidly during pregnancy. It’s common for them to appear in the second half of pregnancy, often in late second trimester and third trimester, Hollis adds.

Can I Prevent Stretch Marks?

There aren’t any proven ways to prevent stretch marks. But there a couple things you can do that may help:

  • Stay hydrated.Drinking lots of water—eight to 10 glasses a day, consistently—helps with hydration and it helps with the elasticity of your collagen bonds,” says Hollis.
  • Moisturize. Dryness and itching can occur when your skin stretches. Use a lotion with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and oatmeal, which decreases itch, says Hollis.
  • Gain weight at a healthy rate. Gaining more than your recommended weight in pregnancy will increase your chance of stretch marks. Talk to your doctor or midwife about how much weight you should gain for a healthy pregnancy, and tips to stay on track with nutrition and exercise.

If you’re really itchy and uncomfortable, talk to your doctor or midwife. There’s a rash known as PUPPP, says Hollis. It stands for pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, and it can be treated.

Do Stretch Marks Go Away After Pregnancy?

For the majority of people, stretch marks will go away after pregnancy, says Al Khan. You may notice that they gradually fade and in time become invisible. If they do linger, you can see a dermatologist for treatment that may help reduce their appearance, he adds.

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