Linea nigra: What that pregnancy belly line really means

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  • If you have noticed a line on your stomach during pregnancy, you're not alone! It's known as the linea nigra, and many women notice this vertical line when they're expecting.

    The linea nigra is a latin term which literally translates to ‘black line’, and describes the dark vertical line which so often appears on the abdomen of pregnant women. Pregnancy is an exciting, amazing and scary time. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions for women, and your body is going through so many weird and wonderful changes.

    We’re not just talking about the baby bump that will soon be protruding. Your skin will go through some alterations too, including a dark line which seems to appear overnight during the second or third trimester. It’s estimated that around 75 per cent of pregnant women will experience some evidence of linea nigra. It can be darker on some and lighter on others.

    Read on to find out more about it…

    What is the linea nigra?

    The linea nigra is simply a line that forms, running vertically on the pregnant belly. “Some women experience significant skin changes in the 2nd trimester, mostly resulting in darkening of the skin”, says midwife Marie Louise, founder of The Modern Midwife and author of Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond.

    The linea nigra generally appears to run from the umbilicus (your belly button) and runs straight down to the pubic bone. But it can also run from the umbilicus upwards, towards and almost level with the ribcage.

    pregnancy - linea nigra

    Credit: Getty Images

    It may be a slight shade of brown or a darker pigment to almost black in colour. You will likely start to notice it from during the second (weeks 13 – 27) and third (29 – 40 weeks) trimester. In the same vein, dark lines may also appear around your belly button, areolas and vagina too, but they should all disappear nine to 12 months after birth.

    Why does the linea nigra develop?

    It’s all down to hormones. Oh yes, they’ve been a constant in your life, from mood swings during your period, to that cluster of chin spots which appear as if from nowhere and for no reason. When you’re pregnant hormones make their comeback with a vengeance and it’s not just monthly, it’s for nine whole months.

    The linea nigra is due to an increase in the melanocyte stimulating hormone which causes skin cells to darken. This is specifically down to high levels of oestrogen, which has a direct effect on the melanocyte stimulating hormone which is manufactured by the placenta.

    Darkening of the skin can happen to pregnant woman due to stimulation of pigment-producing cells by female sex hormones so that they produce more melanin pigments. This process is referred to as melasma and is nothing to worry about.

    However, melasma can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so it’s a good idea to invest in some strong SPF if you start to notice darkening of the skin during pregnancy. Midwife Marie Louise advises, “Some women get darker patches on the forehead or cheeks, if this is the case ensure you protect your skin from the sun.”

    Can the linea nigra predict the gender of my baby?

    There are so many old wives tales out there about how to find out the gender of your baby, and the linea nigra is definitely one of them.

    Apparently, 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’ – from your navel up towards your head – then you are more likely to have a boy. However, there’s no conclusive evidence to prove that this will always be the case and ultrasound scans are the most accurate way to find out your baby’s gender.

    What is the linea nigra actually for?

    It has been said by many a midwife that the body’s natural evolution meant that the development of the linea nigra was specifically to help baby find the breast.

    Midwife Marie Louise explains, ‘The linea nigra is perfectly normal, it’s a hormonal change and there mainly to facilitate darkening of nipples so that your baby is able to see the his/her target for breastfeeding.”

    The dark line of the linea nigra acts as a direction from mum’s pregnant belly up towards the darkened areola, for baby to latch on. In the days before modern medicine, newborns were left with mum skin-on-skin straight from birth. It was in this time that baby would instinctively shimmy up the belly, nuzzling to find the breast.

    It is believed that the scent of the mother’s nipple is similar to the amniotic fluid, which surrounds the foetus for nine months so the baby recognises and trusts it. So it definitely has an evolutionary reason for developing!

    Will linea nigra harm me or my baby?

    No, the linea nigra is not harmful at all. Its seemingly sudden appearance might seem shocking at first, but experts have agreed the line is cosmetic and is not going to harm mum or baby. You don’t need medical treament if you develop a linea nigra. Many women experience this during pregnancy, so you’re not alone. The linea nigra is designed to help your baby find your breast, as explained above.

    linea nigra

    Credit: Getty Images

    What can I do to prevent linea nigra?

    There’s nothing you can do to prevent the line from developing, but if you really want to help it fade quicker, you can consult a dermotologist about using a bleaching cream after pregnancy. However, it’s very important to note that you should not use these creams during pregnancy as it can be harmful to your baby.

    If you really want to hide the line during your pregnancy, it’s much safer to use a makeup concealer over any strong creams. For most women, the pigmentation usually disappears after birth, and Marie Louise adds, “The changes usually go after birth but it’s important to also use sun cream postnatally as darker skin patches or linea nigra may reappear in the sun.”

    linea nigra

    Credit: Getty Images

    Is the linea nigra supposed to be straight?

    No, there’s no need to worry if your linea nigra is not completely straight. It can look different from woman to woman, and the positioning of the linea nigra can sometimes influence old wives’ tales about your baby’s gender. Linea nigras can be crooked, completely straight, or squiggly, and none of these are any cause for concern. It’s simply how the pigmentation has formed on your skin.