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Linea Nigra is a Latin term which quite literally means “black line”. This is a good way to describe the dark vertical line which so often appears on the abdomen of pregnant women.
It’s estimated that around ¾, or 75%, of pregnant women will experience some form of Linea Nigra.
Depending on the individual woman and her skin, Linea Nigra can be quite light and barely visible, while for others it can be much darker than the surrounding skin and stand out much more clearly.
It may be a slight shade of brown or a darker pigment of brown to almost black. Linea Nigra is generally around a centimetre wide and the same width along its entire length. It generally appears from the umbilicus (belly button) running straight down to the pubic bone. But it can also run vertically from the umbilicus up to almost level with the ribcage and occasionally, up between the breasts.
Linea Nigra tends to form during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. It starts off around the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy as a very fine line which slowly expands and becomes darker. As the tummy enlarges the width and intensity of Linea Nigra also expands.
Linea Nigra formation is due to an increase in the hormone which causes skin cells to become dark. During pregnancy high levels of oestrogen have an effect on the melanocyte stimulating hormone which is manufactured by the placenta.
The little understood issue with Linea Nigra is that it is a line which may always have been present, it’s just that until the influence of melanocyte stimulating hormone it wasn’t nearly as visible. Linea Alba (meaning white line) is the term for the line which changes into Linea Nigra as a result of becoming darker.
Another influencing factor is that as the abdominal muscles stretch and separate, Linea Nigra tends to form. The line which is created is certainly more prominent in some women than others and marks the midway point between the left and right abdominal muscles and where they meet in the centre. These “strap” muscles need to separate to allow the pregnant abdomen to grow. Some people believe it is the relative “thinness” of the skin which is the cause for Linea Nigra formation, but again, there is little evidence to support this theory.
The hormonal effect of increased melanin production is also responsible for many other skin changes during pregnancy, including the nipples becoming darker. Moles, birthmarks and freckles often appear darker as well. Even scar tissue can begin to appear darker and more obvious than before.
Chloasma, otherwise known as “The Mask of Pregnancy” or “Butterfly Mask” across the face and cheekbones, is also caused by this rise in melanocyte stimulating hormone.
No, it will not harm you or your growing baby. Linea Nigra is considered wholly “cosmetic” and the only negative issue of having Linea Nigra is that some women consider it to be unsightly. But it is just one of the many minor issues which arise during pregnancy and for most women, resolve after their baby is born.
Linea Nigra is restricted to external skin cells and does not cause a discolouration of darkening of the uterus or the baby. It is quite literally “skin deep”.
There is nothing specific you can do to prevent the formation of Linea Nigra or reduce your likelihood of getting it. If you have dark or olive skin then you are more likely to experience it. If your parents have dark skin and your genetic inheritance is to tan rather than burn, then again, you are more likely to develop Linea Nigra.
Fair skinned women are not as prone to developing Linea Nigra, just as they are less likely to tan as a result of sun exposure. We cannot change the colour of our skin, or the changes which occur as a result of pregnancy hormones.
Some women find that if their skin is exposed to the sun then it becomes more noticeable. However, if their skin tends to tan, the surrounding skin becomes darker as well as their Linea Nigra and this means there is not such a contrast.
There is no specific treatment which is recommended or generally warranted. Most women find that it settles and becomes progressively less obvious within the first few months of their baby’s birth. This fading is gradual and over time there is a steady lightening.
For those women who are having their first baby, the appearance of Linea Nigra can come as quite a shock. Between pregnancies it can just about disappear but emerge again with subsequent pregnancies.
Bleaching creams are not recommended and although some may claim to work miracles, the fact is that most don’t. The compound contained in many bleaching products is known as hydroquinone, a form of chemical which is an inhibitor for melanin production. Products containing hydroquinone have not been assessed as safe to use during pregnancy or lactation.
If you are very keen to trial a skin care product which is designed to lighten skin, then speak with your doctor about what they recommend and what has been assessed as being safe to use. Some creams contain topical retinol which, in the correct concentration can deliver lightening effects.
A “natural” alternative may be lemon juice; however its effects are variable and can cause skin irritation and burning if not diluted with water.
Some women like to rub emollient cream or oils into their tummy believing this will help reduce the likelihood of developing Linea Nigra, but there is no evidence to support this theory. Using creams and lotions on the tummy can help pregnant women believe that by doing “something” they are at least making an effort, no matter how negligible the benefits. And there is no harm in doing this.
If you believe in old wives tales then your Linea Nigra could be telling you something! If it extends from your navel downwards towards your pubic bone then you’re more likely to have a girl. However, if your Linea Nigra is heading north e.g. from your navel up towards your head then you are more likely to have a boy.
But just remember, that the statistics of having either a boy or a girl are around 50% – a little higher for boys, so the odds are pretty high that your interpretation will be right whichever way you look at your Linea Nigra.
This article was written by Jane Barry, freelance parenting consultant, copywriter and director of www.mybabybaby.com.au