Stretch marks

Get a group of new or expecting moms together, and you're likely to hear something about stretch marks. Stretch marks are pink or purplish streaks that typically appear on the abdomen, breasts, upper arms, buttocks and thighs. About half of the pregnant women get them, especially during the last half of pregnancy.

Stretch marks aren't a sign of excessive weight gain. They're caused by a stretching of the skin along with a normal increase in cortisone, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. The increase may weaken elastic fibers of the skin. Heredity is thought to play the biggest role in their development. Some women get severe stretch marks even though they've gained little weight during pregnancy.

Stretch marks usually don't disappear altogether, but after delivery they often fade gradually to light pink or white.

■ Prevention for stretch marks

Contrary to popular belief, no creams or ointments can prevent stretch marks or make them vanish. Because stretch marks develop from deep within the connective tissue underneath the skin, they can't be prevented by anything applied externally.

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