You find out you are pregnant and you are over the moon. You are excited about the little life that is growing in you and you read up all there is to know about safe pregnancy. Whilst it is essential to ensure that your baby receives all the care and nutrient to safeguard his or her healthy growth and development, it is also important not to lose sight of your health and beauty needs. Pregnancy is the only time in a woman\u2019s life when she will experience the most amount of physical changes that will alter the appearance of her body tremendously. One of the bodily changes that pregnant women are most concerned during pregnancy is the formation of stretch marks. So what exactly is this skin condition during pregnancy that sounds hideous and painful? Read on to find out about stretch marks during pregnancy and how to ensure that clear and permanent marks are not left on your body after giving birth to your little one. What are these marks on my body? Pregnancy stretch marks are lines on the skin that may develop on the abdomen, as well as on other areas of the body during pregnancy. While they pose no risk at all to mother or baby, many women have concerns about their unsightly appearance. Why does that happen to my skin? The skin adapts to continuous movement of the body by expanding and contracting, but during pregnancy it may have insufficient time to adjust, causing internal tears in the skin tissue. When these tears repair themselves they form the scars that we know as stretch marks. A second factor causing stretch marks, which is still a subject of debate, involves the priming of the skin by increased levels of hormones. These hormones attract more water into the skin, which relaxes the bonds between collagen fibres. This makes it easier for the skin tissue to tear when it is stretched, causing stretch marks to form. When do I start noticing them? While stretch marks generally become visible during the last trimester of pregnancy (around the sixth or seventh month), some women will start to see them forming as soon as their bellies start growing. Most lighter-skinned women tend to develop pinkish stretch marks, whereas darker-skinned women tend to have stretch marks that are lighter than the surrounding skin. Which part of my body will be affected? Most women develop stretch marks on their abdomen in pregnancy, however it is also common to get stretch marks on the breasts, thighs, hips, lower back and buttocks. While they can appear anywhere on the body, they are most likely to appear in places where larger amounts of fat are stored. How do I protect my body from stretch marks? Whilst there is no guaranteed method against stretch marks during pregnancy, adopting the following healthy lifestyle will reduce the chances and appearance of these unsightly marks forming on your skin. Eat Right Collagen and elastin fibres in the skin are necessary to keep rapidly growing skin taut, and the stronger they are, the less likely they are to break and leave resulting stretch marks. It is therefore necessary to eat right to keep your skin healthy throughout pregnancy. Recommended skin foods for pregnancy: \tVitamin C \u2013 Citrus fruits, bell peppers, green beans, strawberries, papaya, potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes. \tZinc \u2013 Red meats, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, fortified cereals, oysters, dairy products. \tVitamin B3 (Niacin) \u2013 High protein foods, fortified cereals and breads, meats, fish, eggs, peanuts. \tVitamin B2 (Riboflavin) \u2013 meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, fortified cereals, eggs. Be Active In addition to boosting energy levels, reducing mood swings, improving sleep patterns and enhancing one\u2019s overall self-image, exercise can also help prevent stretch marks forming. Exercise improves circulation, which keeps the skin elastic and more able to stretch as it grows. This improved circulation also reduces the possibility of varicose veins and swollen ankles in pregnancy. Recommended pregnancy exercise: \tWalking \u2013 walking is easy on your knees. You should start slowly and make sure that you stretch well before and after. \tSwimming \u2013 many healthcare providers say that swimming is the safest exercise for pregnant women. It raises your heart rate and keeps your body supple. \tYoga \u2013 Most forms of yoga will be safe for you and your baby, as long as they are not excessively vigorous. Some yoga instructors offer special classes for pregnant women, where you will be sure to not over-stretch. Keep it Supple The best defence against stretch marks is to ensure that skin maintains its maximum elasticity throughout pregnancy. This is achieved by keeping skin well-hydrated and supple at all times. In addition to ensuring that you keep your skin supple through eating the right foods and getting enough exercise, you should use a topically-applied product that is specifically formulated to maximise the skin\u2019s elasticity. By applying a product twice daily throughout pregnancy, your skin will remain well-hydrated and better able to stretch. Remember, it is best to start applying a product as soon as you have found out the good news. There are many products in the market today that can help in reducing the appearance of stretch marks. Oil products have been said to be more effective in keeping the skin moist and supple, especially areas that are prone to stretch marks. Some of the products in the market, such as Bio-Oil, are specially formulated with ingredients that are safe to be used during pregnancy. Some of the ingredients to look out for that makes these products highly effective are Vitamin A and E as well as lavender and rosemary essential oils. Additionally Bio-Oil has a unique ingredient known as PurCellin Oil\u2122 which helps to heighten the effectiveness of the other ingredients. So, remember, while you happily flaunt that baby bump and mommy figure, make sure you\u2019re taking good care of it so you can step back into your favourite bikini with full confidence after your delivery.