The bigger your belly grows during your pregnancy, the greater your chance of having loose skin after pregnancy. As with other problems with the human body, the key is prevention because once your skin is stretched it is hard to return loose skin to its original size and shape.
Pregnancy and Skin Stretching
If you have a lot of loose skin after pregnancy it is unlikely to substantially improve without surgical interventions. This is because of the changes in collagen and elastin in the skin's dermis, which normally keep your skin taut, firm and elastic. If the fibers are stretched beyond a certain point during your nine months of pregnancy they will lose their elasticity.
The Extra Skin
The more extra loose skin you have, the more stretched out your collagen and elastin fibers are. When overstretched, like an elastic waist band, the fibers lose their ability to snap back and may break and can also cause stretch marks.
Stretched or damaged collagen cannot pull the extra skin back together and tighten it. New collagen and elastin you make after delivery might tighten mildly stretched skin, but may not be sufficient to pull a lot of extra skin together and restore it to its former self.
Measures to Consider
Skin creams and other topical potions, dietary supplements, body wraps or exercise cannot return over-stretched, loose, sagging skin to normal size. The only corrective solution is surgery, but it is helpful for you to consider what the various other suggested measures can or cannot do for you.
If you did not gain much weight or gain it rapidly during your pregnancy, you won't have as much loose skin after delivery. As you lose your baby weight, your skin should regain most of its pre-pregnancy tautness and firmness within three to six months. If you gained a lot weight and have a lot of loose skin after delivery, weight loss will only make a small visible difference.
Whether you gain the recommended weight or more, helpful tips to help improve your loose skin include:
- Slow (instead of rapid) weight loss will allow your skin to adjust, adapt and regain some tightness and elasticity.
- Eat a healthy diet, especially protein and vitamin C to encourage collagen and elastin production.
- Drink a lot of water, which will keep your tissues hydrated and healthy.
Exercise cannot tighten loose, sagging skin but strengthening your abdominal muscles might help to support your over-lying skin to a small degree. Exercise will help you lose weight, recondition your body and give you a better feeling of abdominal support.
Exercise will increase oxygen supply to your tissues and may help boost collagen and elastin production. Your exercise routine should include:
- Abdominal strength and core exercises
- Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or running
Remember that if you had a cesarean section your muscles may have been cut and may take a while to heal. Talk to your doctor about when to resume any exercise, especially abdominal strength training.
After you lose your baby weight and strengthen your belly muscles, what loose skin is left is unlikely to improve much with time. Consider body shaping and support undergarments, such as Spanx, to give extra support to your abdomen and skin.
Multiple clinical studies have shown the benefits of prescription-strength retinoids to repair damaged skin. Retinoids have some effect on collagen production and has been used to treat stretch marks after pregnancy.
There are no studies, however, on its use in restoring loose skin after pregnancy. Do not apply retinoids to your skin if you are breastfeeding or pregnant.
Only surgery can make a substantial, visible difference if you are left with a lot of extra loose skin after losing your baby weight. Consider the following surgical interventions:
- The most invasive option is contouring/body lift surgery or abdominoplasty to remove the loose skin and tighten the abdomen. This has been the mainstay of treating extra loose skin, especially if you have a lot.
- Non-invasive options using infrared light, laser, radiofrequency or a combination of modalities to heat and stimulate collagen are used for skin tightening facial rejuvenation, but also for all-over body tightening and contouring.
It might be best wait at least six months to a year before surgical procedures to give your body and skin time to readjust after pregnancy. Consult with your own doctor, a plastic surgeon or a cosmetic dermatologist to learn more about the procedures and if they can make a difference to the amount of loose skin you have.
Prevention is the key to avoid having to cope with a lot of loose skin after pregnancy. Consider that how much your belly skin stretches and how much loose skin you will have after delivery depends on:
- The size of your baby or babies in your growing uterus
- How much fat weight you gain
- How fast you gain the weight
- How stretched and loose your skin was before you got pregnant
- How susceptible your collagen and elastin are to stretching and breaking; partly a function of your age and genetics
You can't change your genetics or your age but you can take steps to control how much weight you gain.
Steps to Take
Though some skin stretching is inevitable during pregnancy, limit how much it does by controlling your weight gain in a healthy way. Gain weight slowly and consume a balanced, nutrient-dense diet throughout your pregnancy.
Before starting any exercise during pregnancy, be sure to discuss this with your doctor, especially if you have a high risk pregnancy.
Control how much your skin is stretched during pregnancy to limit the amount of loose skin you are left after you lose your baby weight. If you have a lot of loose abdominal skin after pregnancy, non-invasive procedures can tighten your skin, however the only effective, definitive treatment is surgery to remove the extra skin.