How to Take Care of Belly Skin During and After Pregnancy

Woman moisturizes pregnant belly

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Your body goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy—after all, you are literally growing a human inside of you, so your body is adapting to make that possible. But there are arguably no changes more significant than those that happen to your belly.

As you welcome your new baby into your life, you may also be saying hello to some noticeable marks on your belly skin, from stretch marks and scars to loose skin, in the months after giving birth. If you're hoping to avoid some of these changes while keeping your belly skin as healthy as possible, there are a number of steps you can take during and after your pregnancy.

Here, you'll find the essential step-by-step guide to taking care of your belly and ensuring that your skin is nourished and satisfied. And before that, you'll learn about everything that happens to the region during pregnancy and why, so you can be prepared.

What Happens to Belly Skin During Pregnancy?

Though we talk a lot about the belly growing during pregnancy, it is actually your uterus that is expanding in size to allow for your baby's development—not the stomach.

"Just like any part of your body that grows or swells (like the chest or legs as you work out and start to build muscle), the skin as a living organ will expand around the uterus," says Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a West Islip, New York-based dermatologist. "As this happens, there are areas of the belly that can stretch, and depending on a person's genetics and their skin's ability to accommodate this change, this can lead to stretch marks."

The amount of stretching experienced during pregnancy will of course vary from person to person, but the average woman gains around 30 pounds over the course of the nine months. As this weight gain occurs, your skin will stretch to accommodate, potentially leading to the development of stretch marks.

Many also notice a darkened line in the middle of the belly, known as a linea nigra, as pregnancy progresses. It is important to note, that much like the other changes that occur in pregnancy, this line can last postpartum, often for up to a year or more.

What Happens to Belly Skin After Pregnancy?

Although you might think these changes are limited to your actual pregnancy, as your uterus (and therefore your belly skin) are expanding, the area continues to transform even after you've given birth.

"After pregnancy, that skin starts to contract down, but often with stretch, there is a change in elasticity, and the belly does not always snap back into the shape it was before you had a baby," explains Dr. Mariwalla, a mother of three.

This can translate to loose or sagging skin on the belly as your body shrinks in size. And while they will likely fade over time, any stretch marks that show up during pregnancy will remain after giving birth.

You may also have scars from the birth itself, especially if you had a C-section. "When you have a C-section, remember that those muscles are being cut—so working out and the changes you can expect to see from working out—are definitely different," Dr. Mariwalla explains.

In fact, many of your once-trusty tricks for toning your stomach may not deliver the same results they previously did, as abdominal muscles can be functionally affected by pregnancy. "It is harder to tone the belly area, in general," says Dr. Mariwalla. "Regardless of your delivery, the more children you have and the older you get, the harder it is to keep this area toned and firm."

Taking Care of Belly Skin During and After Pregnancy

Although our faces remain the focus of most skincare, it's hugely important to take care of the skin on your body as well, particularly when it's going through so many rapid changes. Treating your belly skin during and after pregnancy can help prevent stretch marks and loose skin. It can also keep it from getting itchy, flaky, or irritated and ensure that it's getting all the nourishment it needs.

Manage Your Expectations

It is important to know that some elements of your body and skin are simply out of your control. "Stretch marks can be very much genetic, so even if you’re doing everything you can to prevent them, you may still get them," says Peach & Lily founder Alicia Yoon, who gave birth to her first child in May 2021.

"Sometimes, people feel worse if they think they didn't do enough to prevent stretch marks, but because they are in large part genetic, if you end up with stretch marks, you don’t have to be regretful and wish you’d done more."

For those prone to stretch marks, all the belly skincare in the world won't fully eliminate them, but if your skin is being well-nourished, you'll have a better chance of staving them off.

The more you adhere to a regular belly care routine, the better; but don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. "When it comes to things like this, even a little bit can be a lot for somebody, and an incremental improvement can make you feel that much better about yourself," Yoon says. So, even if you're applying belly oil or moisturizer a couple of times a week rather than devoting half an hour to a full regimen every day, it will still make a difference.

It's also crucial that you don't put too much pressure on yourself. "Pregnancy is hard, and postpartum can be even harder, so the idea here isn’t to be perfect but instead to think about it as 80/20," Yoon notes, meaning that doing your body care routine 80 percent of the time is still worthwhile. "Try to do your best, and if there are times when it’s not going to happen, that’s okay." Though consistency is key when taking care of your belly, skin is not going to lose all progress because you skipped one day, so don't feel bad if you're just not up to it every now and then.

Taking care of your belly skin during and after pregnancy is a smart move, but it shouldn't feel like a task. "I feel like a lot of women end up being really busy during their pregnancy, so these moments of belly care can also serve as moments of reflection, and it’s a great way to connect with your body and with your baby," Yoon adds. "It just really grounds you and reminds you of this miracle that you’re performing."

Don't Only Treat the Changes You Can See

The skin on your belly seems to go through far more during and after pregnancy than any other area of the body, but that doesn't mean you should ignore everything but your bump. Stretch marks and loose skin can occur on areas of your body, such as your torso sides and back. So be sure to treat them with the same attention that you treat your belly.

"Our skin is really one continuous piece," Yoon says. "So, even though it’s our belly that’s doing the most physical stretching, I always think of it as all the way around, the entire 360 around to the back and extending downwards towards the hips and pelvic area."

Ultimately, stretching happens in all of these places, even if to a lesser degree, so it's important to care for all of them, not just where you see your baby growing.

Keep Up Your Routine After Pregnancy

It's easy to remember to treat your belly skin when you can see (and feel) it changing, but it's a bit harder when the expansion is behind you and you now have an infant to care for around the clock.

Challenging as it may be, it's important to continue your belly skincare regimen during the postpartum period. "After pregnancy, it is helpful to moisturize regularly simply because your body is trying to recover after nine months of making another human," says Dr. Mariwalla.

This can be especially helpful for anyone prone to stretch marks because they can show up even when skin is shrinking very quickly. Dr. Mariwalla suggests sticking to your belly treatment until the brown stripe disappears (if you have on) and when the skin starts to regain some elasticity. If you are concerned about any changes your skin is experiencing during this time, reach out to your dermatologist.

A Step-by-Step Belly Skincare Routine for During and After Pregnancy

Belly skin, like all skin, is a deeply personal thing, and the ways you care for it should be, too. With that said, there are certain steps and ingredients that can hugely benefit most—both during pregnancy and after. Here is a step-by-step routine for caring for your belly that will keep skin nourished and help prevent stretch marks and sagging.

Exfoliate

The first step in almost every skincare routine is to exfoliate so that you get rid of any dead skin, dirt, and bacteria buildup and create a blank canvas for all that follows.

"When it comes to exfoliating your belly area, you can use a physical exfoliant, but I would say nothing super abrasive," Yoon advises. "You want something very gentle, like a gommage peel (an exfoliating peel made with enzymes or fruit acids) or a konjac sponge, or even something with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) in it."

When it comes to chemical exfoliants, it is important to check with your healthcare provider first. "Even if an ingredient is safe for pregnancy, don’t be shy about checking with them because everyone is different," Yoon says.

When it comes to exfoliating your belly, once a week (at most) is sufficient. "You don’t want to over-exfoliate your body, especially when it’s already going through so much, so less is more," Yoon adds.

Create Moisture

Skin is known to absorb ingredients more when damp, so creating some natural moisture for your belly skin is a great next step. "After you get out of the shower, step out of the hot water but keep the shower running on the hottest temperature," Yoon explains. "This will create some steaminess in the bathroom, which is really good for your belly skin to be able to absorb everything."

You can also achieve the same results without fogging up your mirror. "The other thing you could do is take just a muslin cloth (it could even be the same ones you use for your baby), and put it under very hot water then apply to your belly," she says. "Just make sure to keep the area moist as you reach for your next product since it will work better when applied to damp, already hydrated skin, and will lock in the moisture.

Hydrate the Skin

Next, it's time for what's arguably the most obvious part of belly skincare: hydration. It's important to keep the skin of the belly nourished, be it with a cream or oil because it can enhance the skin's elasticity and smoothness.

"People think about hydration as moisturizing the surface of the skin, but that’s more of an occlusive moisturizer," Yoon says. "It’s also really great to get hydration within the skin by using products that have humectants, like hyaluronic acid, which binds to water and helps skin retain moisture from water."

Humectants, hydrating agents that retain moisture from water and humidity, work best when there's already moisture on the skin, so this is ideal right after a steam or hot cloth in the last step.

Hydration can come in the form of an essence, toner, serum, or virtually any other lightweight liquid. During her pregnancy, Yoon regularly used a face mist on her belly by misting it all over the area. She says it was a fast and easy way to apply a light, refreshing layer of hydration.

Lock All The Hyration In

The last step in a complete belly skincare routine is to lock everything in and create supple skin with an occlusive moisturizer. The occlusive forms a protective layer on the surface of skin to both seal in all of the hydration you just added and prevent any moisture loss.

Whether it's an oil, a balm, a cream, or an emollient (a thick moisturizer, like Aquaphor or Vaseline), you want to look for lipids and ceramides and avoid anything water-based, as this will not create the same protective barrier on top of skin. "For some creams, there may not actually be enough oil content in there to lock everything in or to provide your skin with the lipid support it needs," says Yoon. "So, try to find an oil-based occlusive."

Take the moisturizer into your hands and massage it onto your belly, going up to the breasts, down to the hips, and around to the back as much as possible. "There’s your skin, but then there’s also all the ligaments that are getting stretched out, so I liked to bring it down to the hip bone area where I felt a lot of round ligament pain," Yoon notes.

Bonus Points: Mask Up

While the aforementioned steps are already quite thorough, if you really feel like going above and beyond, Yoon recommends a belly sheet mask. "Once in a while, like every couple of months, I would actually take a sheet mask and do it on my belly just because it felt so refreshing and hydrating," she says. Simply apply it to your belly the same you would your face, and enjoy!

A Word From Verywell

Changes to your belly skin during and after pregnancy are normal and should be expected, but there are certain measures you can take to ensure the area is healthy and nourished. Even if you can't stick to your belly care regimen all the time, something is still better than nothing.

And if you notice anything concerning, be sure to speak to your board-certified dermatologist. Likewise, if the changes to your belly skin are bothersome, you also can consult a cosmetic dermatologist for advice.

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