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, up to 9 in 10 pregnant people will experience it,1Kumari, R., Jaisankar, T. J., & Thappa, D. M. (2007). A clinical study of skin changes in pregnancy. Establishing the association between nonnutritive sucking behavior and malocclusions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology, 73(2), 141.

and it’s not unusual to see a clearly visible line in images of full-term pregnancies. Technically, this line is called linea gravidarum in pregnancy. ‘Gravida’ means pregnant. It’s still a standard query at early OB-GYN visits, however, as many are eager to know what causes this common condition, if it affects their child in any way and if it can be prevented.

Editor’s note: Linea gravidarum is the same as linea nigra except that it only happens in pregnant women and has no effect on the baby or the mother’s health.

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.2Bieber, A. K., Martires, K. J., Stein, J. A., Grant-Kels, J. M., Driscoll, M. S., & Pomeranz, M. K. (2017).Pigmentation and pregnancy: Knowing what is normal. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 129(1), 168-173.

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 pregnant people.

Does the Development of This Condition Affect Healthy Pregnancies or Signify Anything to Be Aware Of?

Fortunately, this common skin condition is fully cosmetic and has no ties to the health of pregnant parents 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 to Prevent the Development of This Condition?

There is no way 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.3Vora, R. V., Gupta, R., Mehta, M. J., Chaudhari, A. H., Pilani, A. P., & Patel, N. (2014).
    Pregnancy and skin. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 3(4), 318.
    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 people?

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 someone who is certain they aren’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 people. 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 and to drugs that block androgens.

Does This Change Ever Go Away? How Long Does It Take, and What Can You Do to Speed the Process?

Concerned parents 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.4Pregnancy week by week

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 up to 90% of pregnant people. It’s not a condition that can be prevented, but minimizing sun exposure is the #1 way that expectant parents can avoid worsening their hyperpigmentation. There’s no connection between its appearance and the health of the parent 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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