Linea nigra

If you see a dark line on your belly during pregnancy, don't worry. It's called the linea nigra and will likely fade soon after your pregnancy.

pregnant woman's belly with linea nigra
Photo credit: Thinkstock

What is the linea nigra?

The linea nigra is a dark, vertical line on your belly that appears during pregnancy. Latin for "black line," the linea nigra usually extends from your belly button down to your pubic area. In some women it also extends upwards from the belly button. Most pregnant women will develop one, but it's a little less common or noticeable in women with fair skin. The linea nigra can also appear on newborn babies.

Why does the linea nigra appear?

The linea nigra's appearance is related to higher-than-usual levels of hormones during pregnancy. Estrogen and melanocyte-stimulating hormone act on the cells that contain melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its color. It's not well understood why these cells (called melanocytes) appear darker in some parts of the body and not others.

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The linea nigra is just one of the ways that skin can change during pregnancy. Some women develop darker patches on their face called melasma or "mask of pregnancy." Often, other pigmented areas of skin get darker. You may notice this on your areolas (the area around the nipples); your labia majora (the folds of skin around the vagina); and where your skin creases, such as by your armpits and where your legs meet your torso.

When does the linea nigra appear?

As hormone levels rise, a noticeable linea nigra develops, usually by the middle of pregnancy. In fact, this line on your belly was always there but wasn't visible. That line is called the linea alba (white line). When it darkens, the linea alba becomes the linea nigra.

Can I avoid getting a pregnancy line on my stomach?

No, since it's connected to hormone levels, the pregnancy line isn't something you can avoid. But you can take steps to minimize melasma, and these may help minimize the linea nigra as well:

  • Use sun protection. Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays intensifies pigment changes. Use a broad-spectrum sunblock (a formula that protects against both UVA and UVB rays) with SPF 30 or higher every day, even when it's not sunny, and reapply often during the day if you're outside. This is true even if you have dark skin. Although dark skin has more melanin (pigment) than lighter skin and doesn't sunburn as quickly, it's not enough to protect you from harmful UV radiation.
  • Don't wax. Using wax to remove hair can cause skin inflammation that worsens melasma, especially in areas of your body that are affected by pigmentation changes.
  • Use hypoallergenic skin care products. Cleansers and face creams that irritate your skin may make melasma worse.

When will the linea nigra go away?

After your pregnancy, the linea nigra should fade over a few weeks to months, though in some women it may not disappear entirely.

If you still have a pregnancy line months later and want to treat it, skin whitening products might be an option (they're not recommended during pregnancy). As always, check with your health care provider before using any over-the-counter products if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

Most likely, the linea nigra will disappear after birth without you having to do anything, or even think about it.

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Will I have a linea nigra in every pregnancy?

If you had a linea nigra in your first pregnancy, you'll likely have it again in later pregnancies – but not always. It can appear sooner or later, look fainter or darker, or not appear at all. Experts don't understand the reasons why it varies from one pregnancy to the next. Like pregnancy, the linea nigra can be unpredictable!

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American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Patient FAQs: Skin Conditions in Pregnancy. Last reviewed June 2020. a new window [Accessed March 2021]

Tunzi, M and Gray, G. Common Skin Conditions During Pregnancy. American Family Physician. January 2007. a new window [Accessed March 2021]

Motosko CC, Bieber AK, Pomeranz MK, et. al. Physiologic changes of pregnancy: A review of the literature. International Journal of Women's Dermatology. October 2017. a new window [Accessed March 2021]

Vora RV, Gupta R, Mehta MJ, et. al. Pregnancy and skin. Journal of Family Medical Primary Care. October 2014. a new window [Accessed March 2021]

Deepi Brar

Deepi Brar is a longtime health and science editor who has worked with BabyCenter, CVS Pharmacy, Rally Health, and other health teams to produce engaging, accurate content for everyone.