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Worried about pregnancy stretch marks?

Experts tell you how to take care of these scars that occur during and post delivery

Do you get anxious every time you look at the scars on your stomach as the date of delivery nears? If yes, you are not the only one. A recent survey conducted in Indian metros and non-metros revealed that 87% of new and expecting moms-to-be worry about their physical appearance during and post pregnancy. Moreover, 90% new and expecting mothers agree that stretch marks are one of the most worrisome issues with respect to their looks.

What are pregnancy stretch marks?

Says gynaecologist and infertility specialist, Dr Nandita Palshetkar, "As the baby grows inside the abdomen, the skin around it stretches. Though there is a certain amount of elasticity in the skin, the size of the abdomen and breasts grow enormously, stretching the skin beyond its usual capacity. With certain pregnancies, the pressure is greater if the baby is larger in size. Post pregnancy, when the additional weight is lost, the stretched skin becomes loose, often leaving marks that are hard to get rid of. This is a common phenomenon and every pregnant woman's nightmare."

When do stretch marks appear?

According to experts, most women start getting these marks after sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. Says senior cosmetic surgeon, Dr Mohan Thomas, "These marks become more visible post pregnancy, once the person starts to lose weight."

Doctors believe that stretch marks can also be genetic. "If your mother or sister had stretch marks, then you're more likely to have them too.

They are more frequently seen in women who are overweight. Also, fairer women develop pinkish stretch marks whereas darker ones tend to get stretch marks that are lighter than their skin tone," says dermatologist Dr Apratim Goel.

Marks only on tummy: A myth

According to the survey, 75% Indian women believe that stretch marks only appear on the tummy. However, that's a myth. Says dermatologist Dr Sadhana Deshmukh, "Stretch marks acquired during pregnancy can be visible around the tummy area, and they grow down to thighs and even stretch further to knees and outer and inner arms."

How to treat the marks

It's important for mothers to understand that fully preventing stretch marks isn't possible. Dr Palshetkar says, "Stretch marks are a part and parcel of pregnancy, irrespective of age or the number of pregnancies a woman has gone through. In some cases, they take as long as five to six years to disappear."

However, a strict skin-care regimen, which includes moisturising your skin with cocoa or shea butter twice or thrice a day can go a long way in reducing the severity of the marks. "Regular use of body oils and creams is mandatory during pregnancy because your skin becomes more dry at that time," she says.

Adds Dr Goel, "Creams containing Tretinoin and tazarotene (prescription retinoid) can rebuild collagen within stretch marks and improve their appearance. However, they should not be used during pregnancy. Glycolic acid work similar to retinoic acid and can be used as creams or even peels."

Using cosmetic procedures

Cosmetic treatments are also becoming a growing option for women who want to get rid of these marks. Says Dr Thomas, "It is virtually impossible to fully remove older stretch marks without a surgical procedure as they are actually tears/scars in the dermis (middle layer) of skin and a result of the healing." However, experts warn that these treatments should be done only post pregnancy. Here are some common cosmetic procedures.

Abdominoplasty: Also known as tummy tuck, it is a common surgical procedure followed for removing post-pregnancy stretch marks. Senior aesthetic and laser surgeon, Dr Lakshyajit Dhami, says, "This will not only remove the excess lower abdominal skin, but also tone it up. It is a day-care procedure with downtime of one week. The patient should avoid strenuous activities for a couple of weeks." Laser treatment: Using pulsed dye laser has shown to reduce post pregnancy stretch marks, according to cosmetic surgeons. "These laser treatments won't be effective for women with darker skin. Much like laser hair removal, the process works best when there's a large contrast between the red stretch marks and the pigment of the skin. For older stretch marks, laser reduces the discolouration, size and depth of stretch marks and significantly improves the skin's elasticity by about 50-65%," says Dr Thomas.

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