I always thought this was a myth, and that it was impossible to avoid stretch marks or to get rid of stretch marks. My back is actually covered in stretch marks from when I used to be a professional ice skater, and my legs were, too, from all the stretching. But my tummy? No stretch marks. And I managed to diminish the ones on my legs, too! I’ve had those since I was 12! Okay, full disclosure, there’s the tiniest little scattering to the left of my belly button but check out the pics below to compare my belly to the stretch marks on my back, I am still shocked by how well this worked. I am 9 months postpartum.
Here’s how I did it. As they say, prevention is the best cure. It’s important to know that buying products won’t solve the problem by itself, you need to know how to use them, and you need to actually do it daily. When I was pregnant my skin got very sensitive so I had to be very careful what products I used. I all but stopped doing my facial skincare routine and had to completely avoid products containing retinol or hyaluronic acid, which are usually skincare staples for me, so pregnancy was a challenge to completely re-think my skincare routines and make them more natural. Links to products are further down.
- From about the second trimester, I tried to avoid exercising my stomach muscles. I cut my usual workout down to just gentle “granny yoga” or “chair yoga” every day. The goal was to stay in shape but to make sure my body prioritised growing a healthy baby not growing my muscles! I still did a bit of walking every day, and in my third trimester, I did a bit more, to prepare my body for labour (I had a C-section in the end but I really, really wanted to try for a v-birth).
- During the third trimester, I followed the brilliant active birth “hip wiggle” workout produced by Ulster Hospital (where I gave birth) available here on Youtube. This got the skin moving in all the right ways, opening up the hips and gently stretching which helped me avoid stretch marks. I did 15-30 minutes per day from 34 weeks pregnant.
- During every shower, I used a sponge and shower gel and massaged in gentle circles all over my body. This breaks up cellulite and scar tissue and increases cell turnover which promotes skin healing and renewal.
- After every shower, I gently massaged my growing stomach. Most days I used body lotion and Innisfree soybean essence. Once or twice a week I used either the Therapy? massage bar from Lush or grapeseed oil. I used this time to connect with my baby and tell them they were loved, wanted, and that we were looking forward to their arrival when they were ready.
- I took my prenatal vitamins every single day after the first trimester (I was too sick to take tablets in the first trimester but I’d been taking them daily for 6 months beforehand in preparation for this). These are especially formulated to give you the extra boost you need to grow the healthiest baby possible. They are also good for your skin, hair and nails.
- I tried to get at least 50g of protein everyday. Because I am dairy free, this came from peanut butter, nuts, pumpkin seeds, Silk soy milk, Silk almond milk (the UK equivalent to Silk soy milk is probably Alpro soya growing up milk but read the label to check the protein), textured vegetable protein (aka soy mince or TVP) and tofu. I also used vegan protein powder to add to my smoothies. The recommendation is 75g of protein per day but, living in a foreign country where food wasn’t as easy to source as it is in the west, I generally averaged about 55g (and this required a lot of effort, dairy free homemade lattes and peanut butter on everything).
- I drank a lot of fruit juice and worked hard to eat as many different types of fruit and vegetables as possible.
- I took lots of baths (with no bath bubbles). Usually I kept these at 37-38 degrees Celsius (just below 100F), although when I was in Japan I used the hot baths because there’s no scientific evidence that this is problematic for babies.
- I didn’t wear any kind of support band or compression band either during or after pregnancy. I tried about three different ones but I found they stopped my body’s natural movements and made me feel squashed, and I didn’t like that.
- I didn’t wear a bra until 7 months pregnant because I couldn’t get a maternity bra in China that fitted over my bump, so I eventually picked one up from Mothercare in Ireland and I highly recommend a shaped maternity bra.
- I didn’t wear anything at all with a waistline after I was about 6 weeks pregnant. No hose, no leggings, no trousers, no skirts… I stuck to dresses and flat sandals, and if I was cold, socks. This was on the advice of my ob-gyn in China, and I’ve heard this is also what they advise you in Japan and South Korea. My goal was to let my body grow and stretch in its most natural way possible, without being forced into a certain position or shape by clothing. They tell you to do this to protect the growing baby, and ensure blood flow to the womb, and I 100% get behind this. I don’t know if it’s why I had no pregnancy issues this time but seriously it was so comfortable. I met pregnant women in Ireland who were barely standing up at 7 months pregnant and I was still able to walk easily, clean my new house and carry furniture until about 4 days before the baby came, when a disastrous membrane sweep seemed to have moved the baby into an oblique lie. People can say I’m crazy, but I think our “maternity fashion” has a lot to answer for in the west and at the end of the day, I have the lack of stretch marks to prove it.
- After I had the baby, I continued using grapeseed oil and the Therapy? massage bar, as well as using a sponge to massage my skin in the shower.
The interesting thing about all this is, it actually helped heal stretch marks I’ve had on my legs since I was about 12 from doing excessive amounts of stretching for sport reasons (but the ones on my back are still vivid). I didn’t work on the ones on my back at all with any kind of skincare products (silly me) and they really stand out. I am now 9 months post partum so I don’t think those stretch marks on my legs are coming back, either.
Products I recommend to avoid stretch marks and get rid of them:
- A good prenatal vitamin. Pregnacare is the absolute best (US link). You can get it in loads of places in the UK but it’s here on UK Amazon If you are in the US, check the ingredients of anything labelled as a “prenatal vitamin” CAREFULLY. I bought my first set of prenatals from the US in September 2018 and I was shocked by how many of them contain vitamin A, which pregnant women should absolutely avoid for the safety of the baby. I was generally horrified by how unregulated the supplement industry is in the US and I only recommend Pregnacare. I had another brand which I got from Walmart and I had to throw them away because they were really bad.
- Grapeseed oil. This is the only oil that is able to penetrate deep enough into the skin layer to actually make a difference to scarring and stretch marks, and it’s a LOT cheaper than the expensive named-brand oil that claims to do the same thing (I have tried that other oil and found it to be useless). I used Now Solutions Grapeseed Oil which is reasonably priced in the US. In the UK, I’d go for this one next time because it’s a LOT cheaper and certified vegan and cruelty free.
- The Therapy? body massage bar by Lush, if you can source it. I had to import mine into China because there’s no Lush over there. It contains Shea Butter which is one of my fave ingredients because it’s so moisturizing.
- Innisfree soybean essence. This Korean stuff is amazing for a range of issues and is made from fermented soybeans. I’ve put this in a spray bottle to make a DIY K-beauty facial spritz and I spray it all over my body, too.
- A basic bath sponge and gentle shower gel. Literally any cheap sponge from Dollar Tree/Poundland will be fine.
- Vegan protein powder. This chocolate one is delicious! Collagen comes from protein so you need lots of protein to grow your skin and heal it during and after pregnancy. Protein is also important for the baby.
Things to avoid:
- Sunbathing. Pregnant skin is more sensitive than normal skin and you will burn. A sunburn is a sign of deep tissue damage which causes premature ageing of the skin, and collagen damage, which makes you more prone to stretch marks because age lines are a sign that your skin isn’t stretching as well as it used to. Cover up, even on that coveted babymoon. I travelled extensively while pregnant, in China, Malaysia, Japan and Ireland, and I 100% recommend you avoid the sun even though it’s tempting at times. If you need to go out in the sun, it should be SPF 50 PA+++ all the way!
- Anything that constricts your belly or claims to compress or “support” it, unless you need it for medical reasons.
- Excessive stomach exercise e.g. leg lifts or sit-ups.
Here’s some pictures of me postpartum (I’m standing in front of the shower curtain and my boobs are weird atm because I’m still breastfeeding and one boob is much bigger than the other, so no bras fit properly). As you can see I only got one tiny patch of stretch marks that are very, very faint on the lower right side of my belly button. This first pic shows my C-section scar to prove I’ve actually had a baby. I’ve also included a pic of the stretch marks on my back from years of exercise, to prove I’m not genetically immune to stretch marks or something (my next task is clearly to work on those ones on my back haha):
That’s my how-to. Now what I really want to know is how to get rid of that brown line that goes north to south down my belly. I think it’s where the muscles separated ready for giving birth (my entire belly button disappeared and turned dark brown because it stretched so much due to past surgery preventing it from popping out, and it hasn’t completely gone back to normal yet) but they’ve never quite gone back. I’ve been doing so many stomach exercises but maybe it will just take time.
PS I’m not a doctor so legally I have to say, please consult a doctor before taking supplements and if you have any concerns about your health during pregnancy. This article contains affiliate links to Amazon where appropriate, but doesn’t affect the price you pay for anything.