NEWS

Post-Baby Stretch Marks Are Nothing to Be Ashamed Of—These Parents Prove It

Pregnant stomach with stretch marks

Sutthiwat Srikhrueadam / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Post-pregnancy stretch marks affect people mentally and emotionally.
  • Accepting and appreciating your body is a step toward normalizing stretch marks.
  • Stretch marks are a sign of strength and a symbol of the life that grew inside of you.

Most of the time, birthing plans don’t happen the way parents expect. For Ashley Austrew, a freelance journalist and mom of two, hers were happily the exception. There were no complications with her pregnancies, but they did leave her with something unexpected—stretch marks. Austrew says she first saw them developing around her lower belly.

“When you first notice them, it’s a very visible sign that your body is changing in major ways and won’t ever really be the same. That can be kind of alarming,” Austrew states. She worried about how the marks would look after she gave birth, and says she fell into the trap of thinking she needed to make them disappear.

Time has tempered her feelings, and she now has a different outlook on her stretch marks. “Over the past several years, I’ve been really focused on trying to treat my body with kindness and accept it for the way it is, not the way other people think it should be. A part of that journey has been learning to view my stretch marks in a neutral way,” she notes. “They are just a part of me, a part of the story of my body.”

Many people who have been pregnant struggle with concerns about stretch marks. A recent study published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology notes that many women are self-conscious about stretch marks and worry about them being permanent. The study results show that women tend to internalize messages that they should feel ashamed of stretch marks. That sense of shame can factor into a parent’s mental and emotional well-being.

Here, we'll take a look at the impact of stretch marks on parents' mental health, methods to physically care for the skin with stretch marks, and the importance of accepting and appreciating our bodies for the incredible feat of childbirth—and all that goes along with it.

What Causes Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks, medically known as striae, can appear on the skin as red linear streaks. They are often present in people who are pregnant or overweight, or who have experienced rapid weight gain or weight loss.

“Striae gravidarum [or pregnancy stretch marks] affect as many as 50 to 90% of pregnant individuals and usually develop on the abdomen and breasts in the second or third trimester,” notes Frank Wang, MD, William B. Taylor Endowed professor of clinical dermatology at Michigan Medicine, and senior author of the study. “Typically, they develop as a result of excessive skin stretching, but numerous factors play a role in causing stretch marks, including a family history of stretch marks during pregnancy.”

Experts say a personal history of stretch marks from growth spurts can also make a person more likely to have them develop during pregnancy. While most experts agree that there are no concrete ways to keep from getting stretch marks or to completely remove them, some information notes that products with Centella, which is an herb, or hyaluronic acid, which is naturally in our skin, may help prevent stretch marks.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to the ability to accept and even embrace the developing stretch marks as a part of the childbirth process.

About the Study

Researchers surveyed 116 pregnant patients in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who had stretch marks. Each participant was asked whether the marks caused them to feel embarrassed, as well as if they impacted their clothing choices and leisure activities. The findings show that women experience shame surrounding this natural phenomenon. In fact, 75% of the participants said their primary concern was that the marks would be permanent. Close to 70% of the patients said their stretch marks were “very prominent” or “moderate.”

Patients also said having stretch marks affected their emotional health. More than one-third of those surveyed said they had “a lot” or “moderate” amounts of self-consciousness or embarrassment because of their stretch marks. Researchers note those feelings about stretch marks impact individuals’ quality of life.

“[Stretch marks] can affect women in many ways, resulting in fear, embarrassment, clothing choice, self-consciousness, anxiety, and depression,” explains Timothy Johnson, MD, Arthur F. Thurnau professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Michigan Medicine. Dr. Johnson co-authored the study. 

Experts say those feelings impact mental health and the way that people with stretch marks view themselves. 

“Body image concerns are one of the things on the list during pregnancy and postpartum that women and pregnant people bring into sessions in therapy—how the body is both part of them and something they’re getting to know in a new way that they noticeably have less control over,” explains Rachael Benjamin, LCSW, director of Tribeca Maternity.

Understanding what stretch marks are and how they develop may help parents feel more comfortable with the physical changes they bring.

Parents' Feelings About Stretch Marks

Writer and associate professor Lisa Fay Coutley, PhD, was a young mother who didn’t know what to expect from the birthing process. She was embarrassed when she saw that stretch marks were a part of the package.

“I remember being afraid to show my partner because I felt sure he’d find me repulsive,” she states. While his reaction was not as bad as she thought, her mother’s reaction to the stretch marks was hard for her to process. “[My mother] wept like my body was ruined,” Dr. Coutley says.

Rachael Benjamin, LCSW

Women and pregnant people struggle with cultural expectations—for instance, the cultural pressure to have a body that bounces back quickly post-baby—mixed with their own expectations of their pre-baby body and its’ value.

— Rachael Benjamin, LCSW

The reaction left a lasting imprint on Dr. Coutley, who stopped wearing bathing suits and any other garment that could potentially cause her stretch marks to show. The mother of two took her cues from other people on how she viewed her body. Experts say that societal pressure can weigh heavily on someone who has given birth. 

“Women and pregnant people struggle with cultural expectations—for instance, the cultural pressure to have a body that bounces back quickly post-baby—mixed with their own expectations of their pre-baby body and its’ value,” notes Benjamin.

Those messages come from a variety of sources.

“New mothers are bombarded with messages from books and blogs and social media that we can prevent stretch marks or use some magical moisturizer that’s going to make them go away forever,” says Austrew. “It’s hard not to internalize the message that stretch marks are bad or failing somehow,” she notes.

Dr. Coutley says she is now more accepting of her stretch marks, and the experiences that they represent. “Women should not feel shame for their bodies in this or anything else,” she states.

Caring For Your Stretch Marks

Stretch marks are a part of your skin, and as such, they should receive the same care and attention that other areas of your skin receive. While experts caution that there are no products that actually remove stretch marks, there are options available that may make your marks less noticeable.

Creams, Lotions, and Gels

Some creams and other products can help lighten stretch marks. Try using them when you first notice stretch marks, since products may have less impact on marks you’ve had for a longer period of time. Massaging it into the skin and using it consistently can also help.

Medication

Hyaluronic acid and tretinoin are two medications that may help fade your stretch marks. Retinol is also recommended to help make stretch marks less visible. However, it is best to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new medicated regimen.

Medical Procedures

A dermatologist can perform a number of procedures to make your stretch marks less noticeable. Microdermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser therapy are just a few. Consulting with your healthcare provider is the best way to know if any of the available procedures will work for you.

Appreciating the Skin You're In

Your body has accomplished an amazing feat. It has nurtured and developed another person. That is no small task and should be celebrated!

Ashley Austrew

A world where we’re unashamed of mom bodies, no matter how they look—that’s the world I want to live in.

— Ashley Austrew

“Stretch marks are a long-lasting sign or mark noting that you grew a human and your body made space for that. I’ve heard stretch marks called tiger stripes to represent power and strength. It is all about how we choose to relate to them,” Benjamin states.

Once people who have given birth make peace with and perhaps even learn to love their symbols of strength, they can help lead the way in normalizing stretch marks, and our bodies, in general.

“A world where we’re unashamed of mom bodies, no matter how they look—that’s the world I want to live in,” Austrew concludes.

What This Means For You

Pregnancy and childbirth cause a myriad of changes to a person’s body, and that can include stretch marks. Stretch marks are a sign of the strength and power that birthing a new life requires. Society may send messages that stretch marks should be hidden or are embarrassing, but really, they are a natural, beautiful occurrence we can learn to accept and even appreciate.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Karhade K, Lawlor M, Chubb H, Johnson TRB, Voorhees JJ, Wang F. Negative perceptions and emotional impact of striae gravidarum among pregnant women. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. Published online November 2021. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2021.10.015

  2. Oakley AM, Patel BC. Stretch marks. PubMed. Published 2021.

  3. Indria I, Rahayu A. Effectiveness of Gotu Kola extract lotion (Centella Asiatica) in reducing stretch marks. Journal of Health Sciences. 2021;14(3). doi:10.33086/jhs.v14i3.2066

  4. Korgavkar K, Wang F. Stretch marks during pregnancy: a review of topical prevention. British Journal of Dermatology. 2015;172(3). doi:10.1111/bjd.13426

  5. Wollina U, Goldman A. Management of stretch marks (with a focus on striae rubrae). Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. 2017;10(3). doi:10.4103/jcas.jcas_118_17

By LaKeisha Fleming
LaKeisha Fleming is a prolific writer with over 20 years of experience writing for a variety of formats, from film and television scripts, to magazines articles and digital content. She has written for CNN, Tyler Perry Studios, Motherly, Atlanta Parent Magazine, Fayette Woman Magazine, and numerous others. She is passionate about parenting and family, as well as destigmatizing mental health issues. Her book, There Is No Heartbeat: From Miscarriage to Depression to Hope, is authentic, transparent, and providing hope to many.Visit her website at www.lakeishafleming.com.