Linea nigra: What is the dark line on my pregnant stomach and will it go away?

Linea nigra is a dark line on the bump that up to nine in 10 of us develop during pregnancy - we ask the experts about it to find out more

Linea Nigra illustrated by three pregnany bellies different races
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Linea nigra is a line on your pregnant belly and if you've spotted it, you're not alone, many women have this vertical line when they're expecting. 

The linea nigra is a Latin term that literally translates to 'black line'. It is the name used to describe the dark vertical line that often appears on the abdomen of pregnant women around the middle of pregnancy.

Developing a linea nigra during pregnancy is very common and there's no cause for alarm. Up to nine in 10 women will develop a linea nigra during pregnancy, and it's more common in women who have dark hair or deeper skin tones. Some people believe that the way the line extends over your belly can even be used as a baby gender predictor.

Pregnancy is an exciting, amazing and scary time. It's a roller coaster of emotions for women, and the way the body changes in pregnancy can be both strange and wonderful. This dark line which seems to appear overnight during the second or start of the third trimester is part of many changes you will see your skin go through in pregnancy.

In this article, we look at what the linea nigra is, and what it means and we ask experts, will it ever go away?

What is the linea nigra?

The linea nigra is a dark, vertical line that appears on the abdomen during pregnancy. It typically runs from the pubic bone up to or just below the belly button, although its exact length and appearance can vary from person to person.

The line is usually brown or dark brown in color and is often about a quarter to a half an inch in width. It is more pronounced in some individuals than in others and may be more noticeable on individuals with darker skin tones.

"Some women experience significant skin changes in the second 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 appears as a result of increased melanin production during pregnancy and is a normal and common part of pregnancy-related skin changes. After childbirth, it often fades and may eventually disappear, though it might not completely go away for everyone.

WOman smiling at camera
Marie Louise

Marie Louise is a Senior Midwife, adult educator and hypnobirthing teacher. She is founder of The Modern Midwife and author of Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond

What does linea nigra look and feel like?

The dark line 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.

It may be a slight shade of brown or a darker pigment to almost black in colour, depending on your skin tone. You will probably start to notice it from during the second (weeks 13 - 26) and third (27 - 40 weeks) trimester. Dark lines may also appear around your belly button, areolas and vagina too, but they should all disappear nine to 12 months after birth.

pregnancy - linea nigra

Credit: Getty Images

The linea nigra isn't a physical feature that you can touch or feel like a bump or a lump. Instead, it's a visual change in the colour of the skin on the belly. However, you may become more sensitive or stretched due to your growing belly, and you might experience sensations related to the stretching of the skin, such as itching or tightness. 

If you have concerns about any skin changes or discomfort during pregnancy, it's a good idea to discuss them with your midwife or GP.

Why does the linea nigra develop?

The reason the linea nigra develops is all down to hormones. When you're pregnant, your hormones go through unique changes. For example, a woman will produce more estrogen during one pregnancy than throughout her entire life when not pregnant.

Understanding how oestrogen and MSH affects the skin


During pregnancy, your body makes more of a hormone called oestrogen. This tells cells in your skin to make a pigment called melanin. This pigment gives colour to your skin, hair, and eyes. Because of the extra oestrogen in pregnancy, these cells that make melanin, called melanocytes, become more active. This can cause some parts of the skin, like the belly area, to get darker. 

Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormone (MSH)

MSH helps tell skin cells to make melanin. But we don't know as much about MSH's role in creating the belly line during pregnancy compared to oestrogen.

Oestrogen is seen as the main hormone that makes the belly line darker when you're pregnant. MSH might also play a part in making skin colour change during pregnancy, but it's not the only thing doing it.

Women develop a linea nigra because of 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 good suncream with strong SPF. 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."

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. 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.

When does the belly line appear?

The linea nigra usually appears during your second trimester, at around the 12th to 14th week of pregnnacy. However, the exact timing of when it appears can vary from person to person. Some people notice it earlier in their pregnancy, while others may not see it until later in the second trimester.

It's less common for the linea nigra to appear in the third trimester because it's the hormonal changes in early pregnancy that cause it. But in some cases, it may appear or become more noticeable in the later stages of pregnancy.

If you're concerned about changes in your skin or the appearance of the linea nigra, have a chat with your midwife or GP about it. They can put your mind at rest and answer any questions you have. 

Linea nigra on black skin

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When does the belly line disappear?

In most cases the linea nigra starts to fade after childbirth. How long it takes to completely disappear can vary from person to person, but one study in Korea found that it took around 3 to 6 months to fade completely. For others, it may take longer. 

We spoke to Zoe Watson, MAM Consultant Midwife and expert speaker at The Baby Show, to find out more. "After childbirth or during the postpartum period, the linea nigra gradually fades or disappears altogether," says Zoe. "This process can take several months or even up to a year."

In some cases, it may not completely disappear, and a faint line may remain even after a considerable amount of time.

Remember - the linea nigra is a natural and harmless pigmentation change that occurs during pregnancy and usually fades over time. If you have concerns about changes in your skin or the linea nigra itself, discuss them with your GP or a dermatologist for more advice and information.

Midwife Zoe Watson
Zoe Watson

Zoe Watson is a registered nurse, MAM Consultant midwife, and expert speaker at The Baby Show. She has over ten years of experience working in the NHS caring for patients and their families.

Can the linea nigra predict the gender of my baby?

Like the popular Nub Theory or the ancient Chinese birth chart, there are some old wives' tales about pregnancy that say you can predict the gender of your baby by analysing your linea nigra.

Unlike the Nub or Skull Theory which rely on a scan photo to work out if your are having a boy or girl, all you have to do is look at your stomach and the way the linea nigra extends across your skin.

If the line extends from your belly button downwards towards your pubic bone then you're more likely to have a girl. However, if your linea nigra is heading 'north' - from your belly button up towards your breastbone- then you are more likely to have a boy. However, there's no conclusive evidence that this method of predicting your baby's gender is accurate and ultrasound scans are the best - and most scientific! - way to find out your baby's gender.

What is the linea nigra actually for?

Midwife Marie Louise explains that the development of the linea nigra is part of the body's natural evolution and is designed to help your baby to 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 acts as a direction from your pregnant belly up towards the darkened areola, for your 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.

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 you or your baby. You don't need medical treatment if you develop a linea nigra and it's nothing to be concerned about.

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 dermatologist about using certain creams to help it fade 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."

Will I have a linea nigra in every pregnancy?

Chances are, you'll probably see the linea nigra in each pregnancy. Midwife Zoe tells us, "If you experienced linea nigra in a previous pregnancy, you'll likely get it again in subsequent pregnancies. However, it may be lighter or darker and vary in duration each time." 

Linea nigra might show up earlier or later in subsequent pregnancies. Some people feel like it sticks around longer with each pregnancy, but there's no solid proof of that.

Why don’t I have a linea nigra?

You may well have a linea nigra but you don't notice it. Although as many as 9 in ten women have linea nigra in pregnancy, variations in skin colour and pigmentation can make it more or less noticeable. In any case, not having a linea nigra is no cause for concern, just as having one is perfectly safe.

"The majority of people will get a linea nigra during pregnancy," says midwife Zoe. "However, the visibility of the line will vary depending on skin tone. People with darker complexions tend to have a more pronounced line than those with a lighter complexion. This is because people with darker skin have a greater amount of melanin present in their skin."

Does linea nigra darken when you tan?

Yes, exposure to sunlight or tanning beds can make the linea nigra appear darker. Sunlight has the power to stimulate the skin's pigment-producing cells, making the pigmentation in the linea nigra more prominent and causing it to darken. 

However, it's crucial to remember that too much sun exposure can harm your skin, leading to issues like premature aging and skin cancer. If you're pregnant and concerned about changes in your skin or the linea nigra, it's a good idea to protect your skin from too much sun by using sunscreen and staying in the shade when it's hot.

Linea nigra on white skin

(Image credit: Getty Images)

I have a really dark linea nigra - should I be worried?

Try not to worry, there is no cause for concern if your linea nigra seems particularly strong or dark. It's just a combination of hormones and pigmentation in your skin. It won't need any treatment, and it should fade after you give birth. 

However. always talk to your midwife or doctor if you're concerned about any skin changes during or after pregnancy. They are there to help you and answer any questions you have. 

Why do I have a linea nigra but I'm not pregnant?

While most people with linea nigra tend to be pregnant, some people can also develop it without being pregnant, They may notice a distinctive dark line or notice a discolouration of the skin on the abdomen. 

Certain factors can increase the likelihood of developing linea nigra outside pregnancy, including genetics, hormonal imbalances or medical conditions that make your skin change colour. Sun exposure and hormonal products such as birth control pill and hormone replacement therapy medication,  can also make your skin produce more pigmentation, leading to a linea nigra.

You might also want to know more about the skincare ingredients to avoid during pregnancy. The 9 months of pregnancy can sometimes fly by, to get you ready take a look at our best baby prams and best baby monitors. Then maybe take a glance at our baby girl names beginning with A. We also share top tips on how to decide on a baby name.


Joanne Lewsley is mum to a tween, and freelance copywriter and editor who creates parenting, health and lifestyle content for evidence-based websites, including BabyCentre, Live Science, Medical News Today and more.