Stretch-Marks

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Finding a good herbalist

The recommendations in this article are entirely suitable for a woman to use themselves but, if there are other issues that need attention and you know that you need further help, there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to support you, there's some suggestions on how you might go about finding such a person here

Stretch Marks

Most commonly from pregnancy, but also from rapid growth in puberty or from significant weight gain at any time in life, there can be a marked stretching of collagen and elastin fibers in the skin. The marks of this stretching most commonly show on the belly but can also appear on the breasts, buttocks, thighs, low back and hips.

When growing a baby, they are called striae gravidarum, (stripes of pregnancy) and, whilst they usually develop gradually, in some women they can literally appear overnight. The marks initially start off as being bright purple or red, but they do eventually fade and, after some years eventually appear as silvery white streaks.

Hormonal changes in pregnancy, whereby a substance called 'relaxin' combined with much increased levels of progesterone, make the tissues much softer and more flexible. This is so that they can stretch to accommodate the growth and eventual birth of a baby, but it can also lead to more stretching of the skin than would be preferred and the stretch marks themselves are caused by tearing of the outer layer of the skin, the dermis.

You cannot remove an existing stretch mark, but you can do things to either prevent or at least reduce them and, as with any kind of skin care, an inside -outside, internal and external approach works best.

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Internal Healing

Herbal medicines have been used by all cultures throughout history for the simple reason that they help. Certain herbs are renowned at improving the general health of a woman during pregnancy and what can be seen is that, as well as being extremely safe, they share a quality of being exceptionally nourishing.

A combination of herbs in either a tea or a formula can be generally recommended, shown here in the 'Pregnancy Formula & Pregnancy Tea'. Not only will they help the skin to adapt and accommodate to its growing and stretching but they will also do a great deal to support the internal health of both mother and baby in many other regards.

Pregnancy Formula

Raspberry leaf 140mls
Nettle leaf 120mls
Oatstraw 100mls
Alfalfa leaf 100mls
Licorice root 60mls
Ginger root 40mls

We make our own tinctures from organic dried herbs, so it might be important that you understand that the optimal dose range will vary with different preparations made by different companies or practitioners,

The above liquid extracts can be combined into a formula to make 560mls. This will just fit in to a 500ml amber pharm round bottle and is enough to last 8 weeks, approximately two months, if taken at a strong dose 10mls once a day (or 5 mls twice a day if this is preferred for any reason) This is, no doubt, a high dose, but these herbs are extremely safe, the amount of ethanol is completely negligible and these are herbs that need to be taken in robust amounts to bring their actions and ingredients to where they are needed.

Raspberry leaf, Nettles, Oatstraw and Alfalfa are 4 of the most blood, skin, bone and tissue nourishing herbs on the planet. Any pregnant woman will benefit greatly from some or all of them. The Licorice and Ginger are there for their own manifold virtues and to make the mixture easier to take (Licorice) and more easily digested and absorbed into the body (Ginger) If a woman had an aversion to Licorice, or if she had blood pressure that was clearly too high, the Licorice could be well substituted with Peppermint or Chamomile extract. Likewise, if she just did not like Ginger, it could be left out or substituted with Peppermint or Chamomile.

Assuming the woman enjoyed the benefits of this formula and wanted to keep it going, it would be most beneficial to start adding some Mitchella, as a 'pre-parturient tonic' in the last month or two of the pregnancy. More on this herb, and the general subject of preparing for the birth here

This formula should be very easy to take on a daily basis, but it may or may not be difficult to obtain depending on who is supplying herbal extracts in your area. Also, for any other reasons including her personal preferences, a woman might rather make and take a herbal tea, in which case the following combination of herbs will give all the same benefits as the formula


Rubus idaeus (Raspberry leaf)

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Pregnancy Tea

Raspberry leaf - approx 3 grams per cup
Nettle leaf - approx 2-3 grams per cup
Oatstraw - approx 2 grams per cup
Alfalfa leaf - approx 2 grams per cup
Chamomile or Peppermint to taste e.g. 2 grams
Ginger root to taste e.g. 1/2 to 1 gram

The amounts given above are a guide only. 2-3 grams usually equates to about 1 to 2 large heaped tsps of a herb that has been dried from the leaves. Just a quarter to a half tsp of well-cut ginger root would be about 1/2 to 1 gram, even less if using the powdered dry Ginger.

This Pregnancy tea could easily be adapted to individual needs or preferences and if, as often is the case, a woman was very particular about how things tasted in her pregnancy, it might be wise to get the dried herbs separately and then to experiment with using more or less of them until a combination was found that gave the most agreeable flavour.

For example, some women might want much more or less Ginger, if any at all. Some might like to add some Peppermint or, equally, some Chamomile to adapt the flavour of the tea. That said, we all of us usually find that we like things a lot better, or at least find them easier to take, when we get used to having had them a few times.

Whatever the blend, steeping about 5-6 very heaped tsps of these herbs in at least 2 cups of freshly boiled water for a good 10 minutes will extract all their virtues and will make an excellent daily tonic for pregnancy and to prevent or reduce stretch marks. If the woman enjoyed the tea and wanted to make more than one brew of it a day there would be no possible harm but rather every likelihood of further benefit.


Urtica dioica (Nettle leaf)

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Nutrition & Hydration

There are two areas of diet that are the most important for helping to prevent or reduce stretch marks. The first is to stay hydrated. The body makes a great deal more blood, and other tissues, during pregnancy. If we do not increase our fluid intake accordingly, we can settle into a chronic state of mild dehydration and just not be aware of it as our system becomes accustomed to running dry. The skin will definitely be affected and be more easily damaged if there is not enough water to help it maintain elasticity.

So how do you know how much water (or cups of tea etc.) you have to drink? Listen to your body. If you are able to go more than 2 hours without needing to have a decent 'pee' you are dehydrated. If you are needing to go more than once an hour, you are overdoing it and unnecessarily stressing your kidneys. A good outflow every 1-2 hours is the sweet spot and to get into that zone you will need to vary your fluid intake according to the weather, the humidity and how active you are. by Herbal medicines have been used by all cultures throughout history for the simple reason that they help.

The second area is to make sure you are getting enough proteins and fats. Sugar is essential for energy (though many people eat more than they need in the form of bread, pasta, rice etc.) but protein and fat are essential for the growth of your baby and the adaptation of your own body and skin to the growth of the pregnancy.

For a host of reasons, including preventing stretch marks, a pregnant woman needs to eat foods that contain plenty of healthy fats and proteins. She should, of course, eat to her preferences, but this includes nuts and seeds, eggs, avocados, dairy products, meat, fish and chicken. For anyone who wants to read more on this, the great and important subject of nutrition is discussed further here

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External Healing

Taking care of the internal health with good food, hydration and herbal medicine is more than half the battle. If these things are in place, there is every likelihood that the body will respond very well to some nourishing oils and herbs that are applied on the outside as well.

There are a great many skin-care products that are readily available for purchase. I can't recommend any particular products personally but many of them are well made with good, safe ingredients and many women will prefer to get something ready-made.

So, the recipe for the healing oil that follows does require some time and effort to make, and it is just an example. However, these are ingredients that are readily available, the process of making such a preparation is rewarding in itself and I am certain that this would be as good as anything made commercially, and better than the great majority of products out there.

In the brackets after each item below, I have given the cost price to obtain that quantity or more of each ingredient from GoNative, who are an excellent company, based in New Zealand, that supplies base materials for the person who is wants to make their own natural health products.

I am sure that many similar such companies exist in other countries and only need some digging around to find. As you will see, it is very economic to make a large quantity of the healing oil and, as really simple as it is to make, your body will surely love you for it!

Healing Oil

Coconut Oil 250mls (organic 500gms i.e. 500mls = $15)
Cocoa butter 250gms
(organic 250gms = $14
Almond oil 60mls
(organic 60mls = $8)
Apricot oil 60mls (organic = $10)

Beeswax pellets 60mls approx 4-6 tsps (non-organic, 100gms = $10)
Vitamin E oil 30mls (organic = $14 for 30,000 ius)
Lanolin 2-4 tsps (readily available in a pharmacy or elsewhere)

The method of preparation is extremely simple. Just add all ingredients except the vitamin E oil into a glass bowl or jug. Place the bowl into a saucepan to which you have added enough water to create a gentle heat underneath the bowel. As if you were going to lightly steam some vegetables. As the bowl starts to heat up, gently stir the ingredients together. Some will immediately blend together and some, e.g. the beeswax and the cocoa butter, will take some time and stirring to melt. When it has all combined together, take off the heat and then stir in the vitamin E oil as both a preservative and a healing agent in its own right. Pour or ladle into any suitable containers and label them clearly.

The smaller or larger amount of beeswax will make it a little firmer or more liquid, so go with what you think you might prefer. the smaller or larger amount of Lanolin will make it more or less stickier on the skin, go with your preference.

Optional Extras to the Healing Oil

Adding some essential oils will make this oil rather lovely to use and will have their own added benefits. If you already know oils quite well, including what you like, then you could add up to 5 mls of any one or more essential oils to the above formula. If you aren't sure, or are open to experimentation, I would recommend having several oils on hand and to simply add a few drops to the oil when you are ready to use it. Lavender oil can be highly recommended, but it is not to everyone's preference. Any of the citrus oils, Bergamot, Orange, Mandarin, Tangerine should be very pleasant to use. The advice I always give to people in this matter is to 'follow your nose!'. The oils that you are drawn to and enjoy the most are the best ones to use, and you are allowed to change your mind as you go, especially whilst in the great journey of change itself that is a pregnancy!

Infusing the Almond &/or Apricot oils with Calendula blossoms would make this an even more healing preparation for preventing or reducing stretch marks. The method to do this is to get some dried, and preferably organic. Calendula blossoms, then take a jar into which you put one or both of your Almond and Apricot oils, and then press as much of the Calendula into the oils as you can. You may be able to add more after the initial amount of dried Calendula has been somewhat absorbed. Now put the 'infused oil;' into a warm place for anything from 1 to 2 weeks. How you can best press the oil out depends on whatever you have to hand. Using some muslin cloth keeps things tidier but don't be afraid to get your hands right in there to squeeze as much oil from the mixture as you can.

You can use other oils to extract the goodness of Calendula. We use Olive oil and, though we hope you won't need it, I will refer you here to a page on wounds, cuts sores and scrapes that shows how me make another excellent preparation based on an oil infusion called Trauma salve, and that also makes the case for you being sure to have some Lavender oil at home for the many likely needs that will come up when the baby is up and at the world - that's here


Lavender essential oil - apply liberally to minor cuts, scrapes, wounds or burns

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Application

Whether you take the plunge and make an extraordinary preparation like the Healing oil above, or you get some other rich, oily and natural product to use, the method of application is just as important as what's in it.

Every day, you need to make a ritual of rubbing your belly, breasts and any other part that is getting well and truly stretched. Take a few minutes with it and don't be in any hurry to get up and going right away afterwards. A large part of the 'medicine' is about allowing your body to stretch and accommodate to the great changes that are happening within it. The more you can consciously relax into, and be with, this change the easier it will be to navigate it.

You can be sure of the benefits of the above approaches, but there can be no guarantee that stretch marks can be completely prevented. Some pregnancies push more skin out in certain ways than others. Some skin can stretch more than others without tearing.

.Doing any of the above will help, doing all of it will help a great deal but if, despite your best efforts, some stretch marks still come anyway, I hope that you will think about something I picked up from one of the great woman's herbals I read long ago (I'm sorry I can't recall which one) that those silvery lines are the the necklaces that adorn a woman who has gone through the great journey of motherhood and now has the jewels to show for it.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd