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Pregnancy Health: What Is Linea Nigra?

Momtastic_lineanigra

The term linea nigra may sound ominous, but as far as pregnancy symptoms go, it’s no big deal. It affects about 75 percent of pregnant women, though the line itself looks different on everyone. I didn’t have a linea nigra when I was pregnant with my daughter but noticed the mysterious black trail during my second pregnancy, four years later. I’ve talked to dozens of moms and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to who gets it and who doesn’t. So, what do we know about the linea nigra? Find out the origin of the mystery line and what, if anything, there is to do about it. 

What exactly is the linea nigra?

First of all, don’t worry: It doesn’t hurt and it’s not dangerous to you or your baby. The linea nigra (Latin for black line) is not actually black, but a dark, vertical line running down the center of your bump, usually from belly button to pubic bone (though sometimes all the way up to breast level). It is a darkening of the pigment surrounding the linea alba (white line) that you already had pre-pregnancy (but probably never noticed). Most pregnant women seem to notice the onset of linea nigra in their second trimester, says April Sarvis, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at Beaumont Hospital in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. “It’s a hormonal change, but how dark depends on each person.”

Who is most likely to get it?

According to Melissa Goist, an ob-gyn at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, in Columbus, Ohio, it depends on the amount of melanocytes (skin cells that cause pigmentation changes) you have in your belly region. Just as your body produces more blood when you’re pregnant, it also produces more estrogen, which in turn produces more of the melanin (pigment) that darkens the skin, hair, and eyes. This is why some women have skin changes that are light but noticeable and others have a very dark line. 

What’s the best way to get rid of linea nigra?

There’s no way to get rid of it. “These are specific cells within the skin that change pigment due to the pregnancy,” says Dr. Goist. Doctors don’t treat it, and most pregnant women find that as randomly as it appears it seems to disappear. There is a suggested correlation between the line and folic acid levels, so be sure to take your prenatal vitamins. It can also darken if exposed to the sun, so don’t forget to slater on plenty of sunscreen (which you should be doing anyway). And, though not technically a cure, many pregnant women find the use of vitamin-rich moisturizers and body butters to be helpful in reducing the appearance of the line. 

Is it anything to worry about?

No. Don’t worry. There is nothing abnormal about this skin discoloration. 

Will I have linea nigra forever?

Probably not. Most women notice that the line disappears within a year of childbirth, though there are a few factors to consider. Dr. Sarvis points out that the line often fades more slowly for breastfeeding moms, whose hormones are out of whack for longer. And don’t forget that sun exposure can darken it again (even after it has faded away!). Those with very stubborn lines may choose to see a dermatologist for laser treatments, bleaching, or chemical peels, but the line will most likely disappear (or at least fade) on its own.

Remember, ladies, no matter how dark or light yours may be, the linea nigra is nothing more than a harmless pregnancy symptom. The best thing might be to view the centimeter-wide trail as a friendly reminder of what your body is going through.

Photo: Getty