Linea Nigra: Is it Normal?

During your nine-month pregnancy, your body goes through some of the most rapid and significant changes you’ll ever experience.

It’s easy to explain why your belly and bust are expanding, but changes like increased hair growth and hyperpigmentation can be frustrating and confusing.

Linea nigra, a linear darkening of a portion of belly skin that may occur during pregnancy, is fairly common – in fact, about three quarters of expectant moms will experience it, and it’s not unusual to see a clearly visible line in images of full-term pregnant women. It’s still a standard query at early OB-GYN visits, however, as many women are eager to know what causes this common condition, if it affects their child in any way and if it can be prevented.

What is it, and what causes it to appear?

Linea nigra, taken from the Latin words for “black line”, is the medical term for a common condition in which the pigmentation of a naturally existing line extending from your pubic bone to your navel becomes darker during pregnancy. The darkening of the line may stop at your belly button, but it can also extend all the way to the bottom of your ribs.

It’s nearly impossible to see that this line exists before pregnancy, and doctors aren’t completely sure of why the pigmentation change occurs so commonly. It’s postulated that our melanocytes, the same cells that create freckles and give us a tan after a day in the sunshine, are triggered by the huge estrogen boost that pregnancy creates. In fact, your belly isn’t the only place you might sport darkened skin during pregnancy – chloasma, the darkening of facial skin during pregnancy, is thought to be experienced by over half of expectant women.

Does the development of this condition effect healthy pregnancies or signify anything moms should be aware of?

Fortunately, this common skin condition is fully cosmetic and has no ties to the health of mothers or babies. There are no special precautions or medical intervention required, and the line will naturally fade and eventually return to its normal invisible state within the months after your baby is born. Before science was able to refute these claims outright, some people claimed that the length of the line or whether it appeared at all were predictors of gender. Though it’s fun to think about, we know for certain that it isn’t true, and that the line is simply a common, non-preventable dermatological condition of pregnancy.

Is there any way for pregnant women to prevent the development of this condition?

There is no way for moms to outright prevent increases of skin pigmentation during pregnancy, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent worsening the condition and to minimize its appearance. If you don’t mind the presence of the line, it’s not necessary to do anything at all – it has no impact on your health, nor your baby’s, so simply allowing it to happen is just fine.

If you’re feeling self conscious, however, consider these tips:

  • They’re great for portion control:Make healthy food picks and keep taking your prenatals: If you’re not taking prenatal vitamins, it’s not too late to start. They’re a great way to boost folic acid, which can be lacking during pregnancy and may be linked to skin discolorations as well as morning sickness. If you start a regimen early in pregnancy, you’re likely to reap the most benefit when it comes to reducing pigmentation increases. A healthy diet that includes dark greens and whole grains will also give you a helpful folic acid boost.
  • Don’t sunbathe: This one seems pretty clear-cut, since we know that our melanocytes are already working in overdrive. Exposure to the sun, especially without sunblock, can worsen this condition as well as chloasma. Sunscreen does help, but your best bet for avoiding this major trigger is to stay clothed and in the shade when the sun’s at its peak.
  • Cover it up: The same makeup you use on your face can be used to conceal the appearance of the line. However, this can be a bit messy, and it certainly wouldn’t work well with clothes, so proceed with caution.
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Does it only happen to pregnant women?

Because the darkening of this line is by far seen most commonly in late pregnancy, it may spark a great deal of concern when appearing in a woman who is certain she isn’t pregnant. Confirming that you are not pregnant should always be the first step, but after that, a visit to your OB-GYN is in order.

As it’s theorized that this hyperpigmentation is caused by an excess of estrogen, it follows that it can also be connected to hormonal imbalance. One common condition, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, has been demonstrated to result in darkening of the line in some women. Addison’s disease, a rare disorder which inhibits the production of cortisol and aldosterone, can also make this line more prominent. Notably, it is possible for the condition to occur in men rarely, usually linked with either benign or malignant afflictions of the prostate.

Does this change ever go away? How long does it take, and what can moms do to speed the process?

Concerned moms can take heart in the fact that, yes, this hyperpigmentation does fade after pregnancy. In almost all cases, the line will fade away neatly within a few months postpartum. Much as there is not anything that can be done to prevent the condition, there’s not a lot that can be done to speed its recovery. Continuing to maintain a vitamin regimen and a diet rich in folic acid may be helpful, and avoiding exposure to the sun helps to prevent further darkening.

Linea nigra is a part of pregnancy for approximately 75% of women. It’s not a condition that can be prevented, but minimizing sun exposure is the #1 way that expectant mothers can avoid worsening their hyperpigmentation. There’s no connection between its appearance and the health of mother or baby, and it will disappear within months after your child is born, making it ultimately one of the most innocuous changes of pregnancy.

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