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Pregnancy features a host of wonderful things: the healthy glow, thick and beautiful tresses, and an adorable baby bump. Somehow, though, stretch marks never seem to make it onto that best things list. While you may not be able to stave off those marks of pregnancy entirely, it's possible that you can keep them to a minimum -- and your prenatal vitamin may be the best place to start.
Vouching for the Vitamin
The prenatal vitamin is intended to make sure that in addition to diet, pregnant women get the adequate nutrients necessary for fetal development. “Prenatal vitamins are important in pregnancy but cannot take the place or the benefit of a healthy diet,” notes Jaime Schehr, a naturopathic doctor and registered dietitian based in Connecticut. “They will, however, help with making sure (you) have the nutrients needed for healthy skin."
Prenatal vitamins contain antioxidants, including vitamins C, E, A, and beta-carotene, which help to limit the damage caused by free radicals in the body. When free radicals damage skin cells, it reduces the health of the skin and contributes to the signs of aging -- less moisture and less elasticity. Prenatal vitamins also contain selenium and zinc, which also help to maintain the skin's suppleness.
A prenatal vitamin is intended to act as a supplement during pregnancy, just in case you're not consuming an adequate amount of nutrients. The nutrient demands on your body increase throughout your pregnancy, and with morning sickness and other stresses, it can be difficult to consume an adequate amount of everything, everyday.
If you want to keep your skin in optimal health and allow it to stretch naturally, you're going to want to go beyond basic vitamins and consume a variety of fruits, veggies and other foods that aid in skin health. Antioxidant-rich foods include blueberries, pinto beans, cranberries, dried prunes, goji berries, artichokes, carrots and dark chocolate. But don't rush off to the store for milk chocolate bars too quickly -- remember, only dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants. Sneak in some extra antioxidants when you stir-fry by adding a little tomato paste to the concoction, because it's rich in an antioxidant called lycopene.
While most prenatal vitamins are filled with the basic vitamins and minerals that lay the basic foundation for healthy skin, they don't contain everything the skin needs for optimal vigor. Omega-3 fatty acids help to keep the moisture levels in the skin balanced and reduce the production of chemicals that contributes to skin aging.
Unfortunately, the body doesn't produce the fatty acids on its own, so you'll have to help it out to keep your skin moisturized and full of elasticity. One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids is fish, but during pregnancy you'll have to be careful about which fish you consume because some are high in mercury as well. Try to stick to fish like cod, domestic crab, salmon, haddock, shrimp, scallops and freshwater trout. If your stomach revolts at the idea of fish during the tumultuous first trimester of morning sickness, fish oil supplements are a potential alternative, but talk to your health care practitioner before picking up a bottle.
Zinc contributes to oil production in the skin, so try to consume a mix of oats, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds and eggs. Silica, a trace mineral, contributes directly to skin elasticity, so top off your diet with strawberries, cucumber, celery, green beans and mango. While it may be tempting to stop by the health food store for a few bottles of these supplements too, consult your health care practitioner first.
Exercise not only limits the amount of excess weight gain throughout pregnancy, it helps to keep your body and your skin healthy. “Exercise has been a proven stress reducer by improving circulation, elevating mood, decreasing blood pressure and improving the immune system,” notes Colleen Riddle, an ACE-certified personal trainer in Miramar Beach, Florida.
Swimming and stationary bikes lead the list of gentle-on-the-joints options. "Swimming is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise, especially in the third trimester. There is no pressure on your joints, and it just feels good to be buoyant,” Riddle notes. Breathing techniques can also reduce stress. Riddle suggests belly breathing. “Place your hands on your belly and focus on taking a slow, deep breath, letting the chest and abdominal area fill with air,” she advises. “You should feel your belly expand. Then expel the air out very slowly and focus on your belly deflating as you exhale."
You're taking your prenatal vitamin and eating a skin-healthy diet. If you've already gone that far to give your skin the most stretch throughout pregnancy, bravo! But, why not employ a few more strategies to make the results even better. Pick up a high-quality commercial moisturizer. Or turn to your pantry instead and try safflower oil as a moisturizer for dry skin. It's natural, safe and locks in the skin's moisture. Slough off old skin cells by exfoliating once or twice a week, depending on your skin's sensitivity during pregnancy.
While there seems to be a new exfoliant on the market every day, certified makeup artist and skincare expert Josephine Fusco, based in New York, recommends that you stick to something natural given the acids in certain commercially marketed exfoliants. “These may cause irritation and sometimes they penetrate deep into the layers of the skin,” she observes. While you're exfoliating in the shower, keep the dial at a nice, lukewarm temperature. Too much heat can zap the moisture right out of your skin. You can always put a nice hot bath on your to-do list after the baby's born.