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Stretch marks

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Stretch marks are lines that appear on your skin when it’s stretched, such as when you gain weight in pregnancy. The marks might be red, pink or purple.
  • It’s common to get stretch marks during pregnancy, usually on the abdomen, thighs and breasts, but also in other areas.
  • There is no treatment proven to prevent stretch marks.
  • Stretch marks won’t disappear, but they will fade over time.
  • If stretch marks bother you, some treatments may help. The more recent your stretch marks, the better they will respond to treatment.

What are stretch marks?

Stretch marks (also known as striae) are red, pink or purple lines that can appear on your skin. Stretch marks are common; around 9 out of 10 females will develop stretch marks during pregnancy.

Stretch marks are most common on your abdomen (tummy) but they can also appear on your thighs, breasts, hips and upper arms. Sometimes they can feel itchy when they first appear.

What causes stretch marks during pregnancy?

When your skin is stretched, changes occur in the deep layers of your skin, forming stretch marks. When a stretch mark first develops, there are more blood vessels and some inflammation in the area. This causes the change in colour.

Stretch marks are more likely to appear if you gain weight quickly. They often appear in the third trimester of pregnancy as your tummy gets bigger and because of hormone changes in your body.

Can I prevent pregnancy stretch marks?

There are no skin products that have been scientifically proven to prevent stretch marks.

They are more likely to develop if you gain weight quickly so it’s important to eat healthily and exercise when you’re pregnant, to help avoid gaining more weight than you need to.

Recommended weight gains in pregnancy

Body mass index (BMI) is one way to understand if your weight is within the normal range or if you are underweight, overweight or obese.

You can calculate your BMI if you know your height and your weight before pregnancy.

If you have a BMI that’s less than 18.5 or more than 35 you should ask your doctor or midwife for nutrition advice. The table below shows how your pre-pregnancy BMI relates to your recommended weight gain during pregnancy. You should not go on a diet while you are pregnant except under close guidance from your midwife or doctor.

How your pre-pregnancy BMI relates to your recommended weight gain during pregnancy.
Prepregnancy BMI
Rate of gain 2nd and
3rd trimester (kg/week)
Recommended total
gain range (kg)
Less than 18.5 0.45 12.5 to 18
18.5 to 24.9 0.45 11.5 to 16
25.0 to 29.9 0.28 7 to 11.5
Equal to or greater than 30.0 0.22 5 to 9

Will my stretch marks go away after I've had my baby?

Your stretch marks won’t go away after your baby is born, but they will fade with time. Eventually they will become silver or white and less noticeable.

How are stretch marks treated?

Stretch marks aren't harmful, so you don’t need to treat them. If they bother you, there are some treatments you can try. There’s no treatment that can totally get rid of stretch marks, but the earlier you start, the better the result should be. Stretch marks respond more to treatment when they’re new and red.

The following treatments can be helpful for red stretch marks:

  • pulsed dye laser — this is the most effective and usually takes 3 to 5 sessions
  • vitamin A cream — used together with laser therapy
  • other forms of laser

The best treatment is a combination of laser therapy and vitamin A cream. However, prescription vitamin A creams such as tretinoin can be harmful for your baby. They shouldn’t be used while you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

By the time your stretch marks turn white, they will be harder to treat. Here are some things you can try:

  • laser therapy
  • skin needling
  • vitamin A cream

Be careful when getting treatments for stretch marks. They may be ineffective, or worse, harmful for you or your baby. Always check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before using creams during pregnancy.

You can also call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) from anywhere in Australia (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST excluding NSW public holidays), to check if a medicine or an active ingredient is safe for use in pregnancy.

Can stretch marks cause any other problems?

Sometimes a very itchy rash can start in or around stretch marks on your abdomen. This is called polymorphic eruption of pregnancy and it affects 1 in 160 people who are pregnant. It will go away after your baby is born.

Rarely, if you have a lot of stretch marks, trauma to the area can cause a wound or skin tear within a stretch mark.

What can I do to help soothe and care for my skin?

You can try massaging your skin with oils or creams that are safe in pregnancy. This won’t stop you getting stretch marks, but it can make your skin feel soft.

Most non-prescription skincare products are safe in pregnancy because they are rubbed into the skin and not swallowed. Some products contain vitamin A (also known as retinol), but you can use them in pregnancy because the amount of vitamin A is very small. However, it’s important to check with your pharmacist before you use a product, because there are some creams that may be harmful to your baby.

Don’t buy skincare products if you can’t be sure which ingredients are in them. This is especially important if you buy products online.

As always, it’s important to use sunscreen to protect your skin when you’re out in the sun. Sunscreen is safe to use in pregnancy.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022

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