Are you wondering about the dark stripe that runs down your pregnant belly? There’s no need to panic. Over 75 percent of women will experience the linea nigra during pregnancy.
We’re here to reassure you that the linea nigra is a natural pregnancy phenomenon and is nothing to worry about. It’s just a sign your pregnancy hormones have kicked into gear.
We’ll discuss what the linea nigra is, when it appears, if there is anything you can do to prevent it, and if it will go away.
What Is The Linea Nigra?
Did You Know?
You’ve always had a linea nigra, but you probably never noticed before.
Before pregnancy, this line running down your abdomen is called the linea alba (Latin for “white line”). During pregnancy, this line often darkens and becomes the linea nigra (Latin for “black line”).
Most women will develop this “black line” of pigmentation, which stretches down the center of your enlarging abdomen, at some point throughout their pregnancy. Despite its Latin name, this pregnancy line is never really black, but light to dark brown.
The linea nigra is usually about a quarter to half an inch wide and runs vertically from your navel to your pubic bone. For some women, it stretches to their upper abdomen or even right below their breasts (1).
This line marks the point where your right and left abdominal muscles meet in the middle. The separation of these muscles to accommodate your growing uterus is often accompanied by the presence of the linea nigra.
The linea nigra is a skin change that many women struggle with. This pregnancy line usually vanishes following your baby’s birth. We encourage women to embrace the differences in their bodies as visual representations of their venture into motherhood. If this change is negatively affecting your self-worth, reach out to your obstetrician or mental health professional.
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
An Old Wives Tale
Rumor has it that this dark line on your belly could help you predict the gender of your baby. One old wives’ tale is that only women who bear boys have this line. Another more familiar tale is that if the line ends at your belly button, you’re having a girl, but if the line continues up to the bottom of your rib cage, you’re having a boy.
Keep in mind these are just myths, and there’s always a 50/50 chance of getting it right.
What Causes The Linea Nigra?
The presence of the linea nigra is a completely normal part of pregnancy. However, the cause of this pregnancy line is a bit of a mystery.
The main theory is that the extra estrogen secreted by your body during pregnancy stimulates cells in your skin called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce the pigment that darkens your skin, hence the linea nigra.
Other Skin Changes During Pregnancy
Many people say the same process that enhances the linea nigra is responsible for several other skin changes during pregnancy. An example of this is the skin darkening on the face, also known as chloasma, “the mask of pregnancy.”
All of these skin changes are completely normal, and most fade away after your baby is born. Still, if you ever have any concerns, it never hurts to ask your healthcare provider.
When Does The Linea Nigra Appear?
For most women, the linea nigra starts to be noticeable at the end of the first trimester or near the beginning of the second trimester. For other women, it does not appear until a little later in the pregnancy, or it never shows up at all.
It is usually more noticeable with darker skin than fair skin. Likewise, you will be less likely to develop a linea nigra (or it will be less noticeable) if you have a fair complexion.
Can I Prevent Linea Nigra?
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to prevent this natural phenomenon of pregnancy.
However, if it truly bothers you, there are a few things you can do to cover up and minimize the linea nigra:
- Avoid the sun: Spending too much time in the sun can intensify your skin discoloration during pregnancy. When outside, use a pregnancy-safe sunscreen or cover your belly with clothes. You can also stick to the shade, use a tent or umbrella, or avoid peak UV hours (between 10 am and 4 pm).
- Cosmetic makeup: You can powder the area to cover up the linea nigra for a few hours.
- Lemon juice: Some women suggest the acidity of lemon juice on your skin helps fade hyperpigmentation.
- Eat right: There is some evidence linking folic acid deficiency to skin discolorations. Eating a healthy pregnancy diet rich in folic acid can minimize (but not completely prevent) the presence of the linea nigra. Your prenatal vitamin should contain folic acid, but you can also get folic acid from leafy greens, oranges, whole wheat bread, and cereals (2). Even if you’re embracing this pregnancy line, it’s still important to get plenty of folic acid as it is important for your health and baby’s development.
What To Avoid
Never apply skin bleaching creams to your linea nigra, especially those with hydroquinone. They have not been proven safe for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Worse still, they’ve been shown to impose risks, such as birth defects, dark gray spots, and skin cancer.
Does The Linea Nigra Go Away?
Yes, the linea nigra does eventually go away for most women. It usually lessens shortly after birth and then fades away a few months later.
However, it may disappear slower if you are breastfeeding or spending a lot of time in the sun. It may also take longer if you have dark skin, as dark-skinned people are more susceptible to hyperpigmentation because of their additional melanin.
In rare instances, the linea nigra never fades away after pregnancy. If this is the case for you, consider it a wonderful reminder of when you grew another human being inside your body.
Linea Nigra But Never Been Pregnant
If you have a prominent linea nigra but have never been pregnant, you may be concerned. Determining the cause depends on whether or not you’ve always had a highly visible linea nigra. If it hasn’t changed throughout your lifetime, it’s likely nothing to worry about.
However, if you’ve recently noted a darkening and confirmed the absence of pregnancy, you might need to check with your doctor.
Because this line is primarily brought on by the increase in hormones during pregnancy, it’s possible you might have a hormonal imbalance. There’s also a theory that it’s linked to an increase in insulin.
Conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and Addison’s disease have been linked to a more prominent linea nigra. If you have other symptoms of PCOS, such as irregular periods and excess body hair, seek medical advice (3).
A Normal Part Of Pregnancy
The linea nigra is a natural pregnancy phenomenon that is purely cosmetic and nothing to worry over. You will probably start noticing this dark line around your second trimester, as well as some other skin changes, such as darkening of the face and areolas. However, some women may never fully develop this brown line.
If it truly bothers you, you can do some things to minimize it, such as getting plenty of folic acid and avoiding the sun, or simply cover it up. The linea nigra poses no harm and will most likely go away shortly after your baby is born. So for now, embrace this natural pregnancy occurrence, and enjoy your changing body as you sustain another life.