Pregnancy can do weird and wonderful things to your body. Your breasts and belly enlarge, your blood flow increases, and you begin to feel movements from deep inside you.

How “baby” changes the body: See the power of pregnancy

At around the middle of your pregnancy, you may notice another unusual change: a dark line running down the front of your abdomen. It’s called the linea nigra, and it’s no cause for alarm. Here’s an explanation of why the line forms, and what, if anything, you need to do about it.

What Causes Linea Nigra?

Your skin, like the rest of your body, goes through some changes during pregnancy. It stretches to accommodate your growing belly and breasts, and it may change color.

Most pregnant women notice darker patches of skin, especially women who already have dark hair or skin. These patches of skin are called the “mask of pregnancy.” You may also notice other areas of your body getting darker, like your nipples. If you have any scars, they might become more noticeable. Freckles and birthmarks may become more obvious, too.

These color changes happen thanks to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which your body produces in larger amounts to help your baby develop. Estrogen and progesterone stimulate cells called melanocytes in your skin, causing them to produce more melanin, the pigment that makes your skin tan when you lie out in the sun. Increased melanin production is what makes your skin change color during pregnancy.

At some point during your second trimester, you may notice a dark brown band running down the middle of your abdomen, between your belly button and pubic area. This band is called the linea alba, and you’ve always had it, but before your pregnancy it was too light to see. When melanin production increases during pregnancy, the line gets darker and more obvious. Then it’s called the linea nigra. 

What Should You Do About Linea Nigra?

You don’t need to do a thing about linea nigra. It’s not harmful to you or your baby.

You may want to pay more attention to what you eat, though. Research has linked linea nigra to a lack of folic acid. You may be less likely to see the line if you take your prenatal vitamins and eat foods rich in folic acid, like fortified bread, oranges, and leafy green vegetables. This nutrient isn’t just good for your skin. It’s also essential to your baby’s development and to the prevention of serious birth defects.

Some people believe that the linea nigra could send a signal about your baby’s gender. They say that if it runs to your bellybutton, you’re having a girl, and if it keeps going all the way to your ribs you’re due for a boy. But that’s just an old wives’ tale.

What Happens to Linea Nigra After Pregnancy?

Soon after your baby is born, the linea nigra should start to fade. In some women, though, it may never completely disappear. And if you get pregnant again, expect to see that line reappear.

If the line doesn’t go away after pregnancy and its appearance bothers you, ask your dermatologist about using a skin bleaching cream. That should help the line fade more quickly. Just don’t use this type of cream during your pregnancy or while you’re breast-feeding because it can be harmful to your baby. You can also try concealing the line with makeup until it fades.

Be sure to wear sunscreen whenever you expose your belly and other areas of your skin to the sun. Sun exposure can make the line even darker.