A linea negra, also commonly called a linea nigra, is a dark line on the skin that runs from the navel down to the public bone and sometimes also up to the mid-abdomen. It typically occurs in women as a result of hormonal changes, and is a frequent side effect of pregnancy. The line is usually most pronounced in women with darker skin tones, and experts say is appears in about three of four normal pregnancies. Most of the time it will disappear on its own shortly after giving birth, or whenever hormone levels return to normal.
Where it Appears
Most women notice that they are developing a linea negra during around the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy, just as their “baby bump” begins to appear. It is a dark vertical line that typically runs straight down the middle of the abdomen, starting, finishing, or crossing through the belly button. In most cases it looks like a skinny strip of darker skin, almost as if someone has taken a marker or thick ink pen and traced a line down the belly.
Hormones are usually to blame for the line’s appearance and eventual disappearance. Pregnant women are the most likely to experience this phenomenon since they often produce high levels of estrogen and progesterone; together, these two chemicals can increase the body’s production of the skin pigment melanin. It is possible for the line to appear in women who are not pregnant and, in very rare cases, in men — but only usually as a result of a hormonal imbalance or as a side effect of certain medications or treatments.
As a Symptom of Pregnancy
Most medical authorities list the “line of pregnancy” as among the more common side effects of carrying a child. It can occur in any woman regardless of age or ethnicity, and while it is most common in people who have dark skin it is in no way exclusive to them. Sometimes paler-skinned women get an almost transparent, barely visible line, called a linea alba, that never darkens to brown. A lot depends on the specifics of the pregnancy and the chemistry of the woman’s body. It’s possible for the line to appear in a first pregnancy but not in later ones, for instance, or the other way around. In most cases, the skin returns to its normal color and the excess pigmentation leaves within a few months of childbirth.
Old Wives’ Tales and Lore
There is a lot of speculation and myth surrounding what a linea negra means for a pregnant woman. Most medical experts say that it is nothing more than a natural response to the changes needed to grow and nurture a fetus, but other folk experts say it can indicate everything from the gender of the baby to its hair color, strength, or future fortunes. Different cultures sometimes also place special significance around this outward indicator of new life.
Remedies and “Cures”
The linea negra is not harmful, and most of the time it will fade away on its own once a person’s hormones balance out. People who get the line outside of pregnancy can usually help it fade by going on hormone therapy to reduce the free estrogen levels in their blood. It is sometimes the case, though, that the darker pigmentation may fade but never disappear completely, particularly in women who carried multiple babies or whose abdominal skin was profoundly stretched at the time when the line was present.
Some practitioners say that women who want to avoid developing a line should up their intake of folic acid during the early stages of pregnancy, since deficiencies have been linked to skin problems as well as a host of other pregnancy concerns. Regularly moisturizing the skin may also help reduce the chances of developing discolorations, though a lot of it is simply beyond a person’s control. Anyone who is overly concerned about the looks of their line can usually cover it up with light makeup or concealer.