If you’ve been noticing a gradually-darkening line appearing on your pregnant belly, you are in good company. This dark line is called the linea nigra, and it is a phenomenon that affects as many as 90% of expecting mothers.
Although it happens so frequently, the linea nigra can still seem a bit mysterious. Does this line signify something important? How did it just show up? Is it dangerous? Will it ever go away?
The human body is always amazingly intricate, and a pregnant body is even more so. Here is some additional information about what causes the linea nigra to form and what you might be able to expect.
What is the Linea Nigra?
To get a better understanding of the linea nigra, you should start with the linea alba.
The term linea alba is Latin, and it literally means “white line”. Every vertebrate, including humans, has this white line running the entire length of their abdomen from the pubic bone to the bottom of the ribcage. The linea alba contains mostly connective tissue, and its function is to fuse the two sides of the abdominal muscles together.
This white line is normally almost invisible, but it often darkens during pregnancy and becomes the linea nigra, which is Latin for “black line”.
What Does It Look Like?
The linea nigra runs in a straight vertical line that begins at the pubic bone and ends either at the navel or continues to the bottom of the ribcage. It is typically somewhere between a quarter to half an inch wide, and it can be quite noticeable or barely visible.
Despite its name, the linea nigra is rarely a true black color. While some women may have a fairly dark line, it is almost always a shade of brown.
Why Does Pregnancy Cause Skin Discoloration?
As with many of the unusual sensations and events that can occur during pregnancy, hormones are also to blame for your linea nigra.
Skin cells called melanocytes produce melanin, the pigment that gives the skin its color. Overactive melanocytes lead to dark spots, like freckles, moles and patchy light or dark brown areas.
For your pregnancy to progress normally, your body increases production of the hormones progesterone and estrogen. Higher concentrations of these elements in the bloodstream can stimulate melanocytes to produce more melanin, and hyperpigmented areas like the linea nigra are often the result.
In addition to the linea nigra, pregnant women are often prone to other skin color and textural changes:
- Most pregnant mothers notice that the area around their nipples, known as the areola, darkens. Science doesn’t have an exact explanation for why this happens, but some people theorize that a darker areola might be easier for a newborn to see and latch onto properly.
- Melasma, or patchy dark spots on a woman’s face, affects over two-thirds of all pregnant mothers.
- Some women may find small, harmless growths called skin tags in various parts of their body.
- Mothers with existing acne may find that their blemishes worsen or get better, and other women may experience breakouts for the first time.
Are Some Women More Prone to Developing a Linea Nigra?
Due to the higher amount of melanin that naturally occurs her skin, a woman who tans in the sun has a much higher chance of developing a linea nigra than one who tends to burn.
Additionally, women who have an overall darker skin tone also seem to have higher instances of developing a linea nigra. However, even though a lighter-skinned woman does not have as much melanin available, her linea nigra can be more noticeable due to the greater contrast between the hyperpigmented area and the surrounding skin.
Is There a Cause for Concern?
No. Your linea nigra is truly only skin deep and poses no threat at all to you or your unborn child.
Keep in mind that you have had this line in your skin for your entire life. However, you just couldn’t see it until your pregnancy hormones altered your normal levels of melanin.
Should I Worry if I Don’t Have a Linea Nigra?
While the majority of pregnant women do experience linea nigra to some degree, don’t worry if you find yourself in the minority. The linea nigra is just one way the body responds to changing hormone levels, and it is not an indicator of pregnancy health.
Every woman’s pregnancy is completely unique, and some mothers of multiple children can even find that their experience with the linea nigra varies with each pregnancy. For instance, some women may get a bold line with their first child followed by a faint line or none at all with a subsequent pregnancy.
When Does the Linea Nigra Appear?
Most women find that their linea nigra starts becoming noticeable around the fifth month of pregnancy.
Since your body starts producing extra hormones almost immediately after conception, it might seem a bit strange that this hormone-related skin change doesn’t usually appear until several months later. The answer lies in where the hormones are produced and in what concentrations.
For the first few months of pregnancy, an ovarian structure called the corpus luteum provides your baby with the nourishment it needs and produces the hormone progesterone while the placenta is in development. These high levels of progesterone are often behind morning sickness symptoms.
During the second trimester, the placenta matures and takes over the jobs of fetal nourishment, waste product removal and hormonal production. Your placenta manufactures more estrogen and less progesterone than the corpus luteum, and many mothers see their morning sickness symptoms start to dissipate around this time. However, these changing hormone levels can also produce other effects, such as stimulating melanocytes to produce more melanin.
Can I Prevent a Linea Nigra?
The amount of melanin your body produces and your natural skin tone are the two factors that have the most sway over the development of a linea nigra, and you have no control over either.
However, you can do your best to work with your specific situation to keep your pregnancy line as light as possible.
Minimize sun exposure
When exposed to sunlight, melanocytes increase the amount of melanin they produce and your skin becomes darker. The melanocytes in your linea nigra are no different, so exposing your belly to sunlight can cause your pregnancy line to get even darker.
To minimize the amount of sunlight reaching your belly, wear shirts that fully cover your bump, or apply a generous layer of sunscreen.
Ensure that you get enough folate
Folate is Vitamin B9 in its naturally-occurring form.
Since folate is essential for healthy cell development, growth and reducing the chances of certain birth defects, getting proper levels of this element should be a high priority for every pregnant woman.
However, adequate folate intake can also have cosmetic benefits. Skin hyperpigmentation is one symptom of folate deficiency, so making sure you take the recommended amount daily could help diminish your linea nigra.
A few of the foods that are rich in folate include the following:
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and lettuce
- Beef liver
Take a good prenatal vitamin
While your best bet is to get your nutrients from your diet as often as possible, taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin is a great way to help fill in any remaining gaps.
Look for a brand that contains folate rather than folic acid. Folic acid is the synthetic form of Vitamin B9, and it is not as readily absorbed by the body.
Can I Do Anything to Make My Linea Nigra Fade Faster?
You can’t change the way your body produces hormones or melanin, so nothing you can do will cause the linea nigra to actually go away.
However, there are a few methods you could try that might help make the color difference less noticeable. Each of these substances works on the top layer of your skin to either break down some melanin or smooth the skin’s surface. Always make sure to check with your health care provider before beginning any fading routine.
Before applying any of these substances to your entire linea nigra, do a patch test first.
- Apply a small amount of the substance to a small area of your skin that you can easily see and reach. The inner portion of the elbow is usually a good site.
- Watch for any signs of irritation. If you have any itching, redness or burning, wash the substance off right away and don’t use it again.
- As long as you don’t have any negative effects, leave the substance on your skin for at least a few hours to make sure you don’t have a delayed reaction.
Lemon juice is a natural acid and has a mild bleaching effect. In much the same way that lemon juice can lighten your hair, it can also help return your darkened skin to a lighter tone.
Apply the undiluted lemon juice to your skin with a cotton ball or swab, and let it sit for about 15 minutes before washing it off with warm water.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar’s acidic nature and resulting effects on the skin are similar to that of lemon juice, but apple cider vinegar may also have some additional skin-toning benefits.
Apply apple cider vinegar in the same way as you would lemon juice.
Cocoa butter is a highly moisturizing natural fat. Many pregnant women use cocoa butter to soothe itchiness and dryness, but it may also help make the linea nigra a bit less noticeable.
Topical Vitamin E can be helpful to pregnant women in several ways:
- Counteracts some of the effects of ultraviolet light, so it could help reduce further darkening from sunlight exposure.
- Moisturizes your skin and helps soothe itchiness.
- May help prevent stretch marks.
Your body stores excess Vitamin E in body fat rather than eliminating it, so it is possible to get too much. Ask your health care provider about the amount of Vitamin E that is safe for you to use.
Unsafe Fading Methods
Even though you may hear other women talking about the success they have had with the following fading routines, they are not safe to use during pregnancy.
These types of products are readily available at a wide range of price points in beauty supply stores, mass retailers and online. The active ingredient in many of these products is hydroquinone, a chemical that breaks down melanin.
Bleaching creams are often quite effective, but their exact effects on pregnant women and unborn babies are unknown. The United States Food and Drug Administration classifies hydroquinone as a pregnancy category C drug since there is no data from animal or human studies available.
Pregnant women should only use drugs with a category C rating when the benefits clearly outweigh the risks, and these types of situations are usually closely monitored by a health care professional. Since bleaching creams are strictly cosmetic products, using them while pregnant is never worth the risk.
Isopropyl (Rubbing) alcohol
Rubbing alcohol may be effective, but it is a harsh substance that carries a great risk of irritating your skin.
This potential for irritation is true for any person, but the risk could be especially high during pregnancy when your stomach skin is already stretched and prone to itchiness and irritation in the first place.
Instances of the Linea Nigra Outside of Pregnancy
The linea nigra occurs due to a change in hormone levels, and pregnancy isn’t the only situation in life where hormonal production is outside of the norm.
Hormonal birth control
These medications work by mimicking some of the hormonal changes of pregnancy, and this could lead to hyperpigmentation in the same way that an actual pregnancy does.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Women with PCOS produce higher amounts of estrogen, which can lead to increased melanin production and areas of hyperpigmented skin.
Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands fail to produce adequate amounts of several hormones. These low hormone levels can affect many parts of the body, and one of these results can be skin discoloration.
Addison’s disease is most common in women, but typically not until about middle age.
Can the Linea Nigra be a Clue to My Baby’s Gender?
An old wives’ tale claims that the length of your linea nigra can tell you the gender of your unborn child.
- If your linea nigra is confined to the area between your navel and pubic bone, you are pregnant with a girl.
- If your linea nigra extends all the way to your ribcage, your baby is a boy.
In a study done in the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, researchers found that the average accuracy of any gender-prediction method (including linea nigra length) was roughly 55%, which is about the same as blind chance.
Fortunately, mothers today don’t have to rely on dicey prediction theories like women throughout history. The linea nigra typically appears around the fifth month of pregnancy, and this is about the same time that most obstetricians order an anatomy ultrasound that often reveals the baby’s gender.
Bottom line: While it can be fun to think about, you probably shouldn’t buy all of your baby furniture and clothing based on your linea nigra even if you opt not to find out the baby’s gender via ultrasound.
When Does the Linea Nigra Fade Away?
As your hormone levels return to normal in the postpartum period, your linea nigra should gradually return to being a linea alba. Many women find that their once-dark line is back to its normal shade about four to six weeks after giving birth, but this fading process can be more gradual for some mothers.
Appreciating Your Pregnant Body
After all the of the potentially uncomfortable changes and stretching your body has to go through to carry a child, developing a prominent linea nigra might seem like insult added to injury.
While you may not enjoy looking at it, try to think of the linea nigra as a visual reminder that your hormones are working hard to maintain your pregnancy and keep your baby healthy. Your body is doing something amazing, and what you may be tempted to see as a flaw might be more accurately described as a badge that you have earned.
The linea nigra is a pregnancy event that many mothers experience. There are several steps you can take to help prevent or lessen the appearance of your linea nigra, but don’t forget that it is harmless and will gradually fade away during the postpartum months. If you decide to try some home lightening methods, make sure you ask your health care provider first and proceed with caution.
What was your experience with your linea nigra? Did you try anything to lighten it, or did you feel like it was no big deal? Every mother’s perspective is unique, and we’d love to hear about yours in the comments!