You’ve heard of new symptoms making their debut in the postpartum period, but did you know that one of them could be postpartum hives?
Hives are a sign or symptom that your immune system isn’t quite in balance. They happen to about 20 percent of people (not just to new parents).
With postpartum hives, you can temporarily get this skin condition even if you’ve never had them before and even if you don’t have allergies. Don’t worry — hives normally go away as quickly as they appear. Here’s why you might have postpartum hives and what to do about it.
Hives can look like a red rash or raised bumps on the skin. They can sometimes look like other skin rashes such as eczema. Some people get an allergic rash that looks like hives at the end of their pregnancy or shortly after the birth of their baby.
If you have postpartum hives, you might have signs and symptoms like:
- skin rash on the face, neck, chest, stomach, arms, or legs (pretty much anywhere)
- single welts, large flat bumps, or patches on the skin
- skin bumps that are pink, red, or skin-colored
- skin bumps that blanche or turn white when you press on them
- flat, swollen bumps on the skin that can run together
- rough skin texture that looks like eczema
You might get postpartum hives or a skin rash for many reasons. If you don’t normally get hives, the cause could be linked to your pregnancy. You probably won’t get hives again once your body settles down post-baby.
The most common cause of hives is an allergic reaction. No, you’re not allergic to your new baby: If you’ve never had allergies or only had very mild allergies before, you should know that pregnancy can make them worse. About a third of women have worsened asthma and allergy symptoms during pregnancy.
This might happen because the hormone rollercoaster ride you’re on while pregnant can tweak your immune system. All these changes in your body can lead to hives after pregnancy, too.
Changes in your diet during pregnancy (and after) might also change your gut health. This can sometimes trigger an overdrive in the immune system, causing allergies.
You might get postpartum hives because your body is more sensitive as it adapts to post-pregnancy changes. This can cause an allergic skin reaction if you’re around general allergens like:
- mold and mildew
- animal fur and dander
- bug bites or stings
- chemicals, dyes, or perfumes
- medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and antibiotics (like amoxicillin and penicillin)
Infections from germs like bacteria and viruses can also temporarily throw your immune system out of whack. This might lead to postpartum hives and other allergy symptoms.
When you’re pregnant you’re more likely to catch a cold or flu. These germs might stay in your system, and will decide to annoy your immune system when it’s relaxed, right after the baby pops out.
You can also get infections down there, with so much going on during the birth! Infections that might trigger postpartum hives include:
- urinary tract infections
- strep throat
- other bacterial infections
- the common cold virus
- influenza virus
- hepatitis virus
- infectious mononucleosis (mono for short)
- other viral infections
Pregnancy can put your body into overdrive, especially the liver. This can make your liver slow down on its important work of filtering toxins and other junk from the blood. When this happens, liver enzymes might be temporary imbalanced or wastes might collect in your blood.
Both of these situations can lead to hives and other kinds of skin rashes. One medical case study found that this can happen near the end of pregnancy — around 36 weeks or right after delivery.
Liver causes of postpartum hives might lead to rashes on the face, stomach and legs. Along with hives, you might have other symptoms from a sluggish liver, like:
- swelling or bloating
- general itchiness
- fatigue (but that’s a given since you just had a baby!)
- high blood pressure (in rare cases)
Getting postpartum hives from a liver imbalance isn’t common. About 1 in every 200 pregnant or postpartum folks (0.5 percent) may get hives or a skin rash for this reason. You have a higher chance of getting this kind of skin rash if it’s your first pregnancy.
Other causes of postpartum hives include physical, mental, and emotional aspects that might throw a wrench into your immune system. After all, there’s a lot to deal with and many changes to get used to right after your baby is born.
Other causes of postpartum hives may be linked to:
- not getting enough sleep
- sleeping at odd hours
- feeling anxious or depressed
- feeling stressed
- having a panic attack
- feeling cold or hot
- blood transfusions
- changes in your diet
- sun exposure
- exercising or other physical activity
- wearing tight clothing
How long postpartum hives last depends on the cause for this temporary skin condition. Hives that happen from most allergic reactions usually only last as long as your body takes to clear out the allergen. This might be a few minutes to hours or days.
Your postpartum hives might return if you’re around the allergen again.
If you have postpartum hives from a liver imbalance it might clear up within a week of having your baby, or it may last as long as 6 weeks.
In most cases, you won’t need medical treatment for postpartum hives. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help control symptoms in serious cases. Treatment might include:
- skin steroid cream (like betamethasone valerate)
- an antihistamine (like pheniramine)
- anti-itch lotion or cream
- steroid medication (like prednisolone in cases of serious swelling and itching)
- an epinephrine (epi) pen
- allergy shots
- a medication called ursodeoxycholic acid (or Udiliv, only if the cause is a serious liver imbalance)
According to medical studies, steroid creams like betamethasone valerate and allergy medications like the antihistamine pheniramine are safe for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. But if you have postpartum hives and you’re breastfeeding your baby, check with your doctor before applying or taking any kind of medication.
If you have allergies, you may need to see an allergy specialist to find out what you’re allergic to and find out if the allergies are here to stay.
Home remedies for postpartum hives help to soothe your skin and control itching. Try these tips to help slow down the scratching:
- have a cool (or lukewarm) bath
- take a nap or relax (after getting some help with your new little one!)
- apply pure aloe gel to help heal and soothe the area(s)
- apply a natural lotion like shea butter
- use wet wraps on the skin
- wear loose, breathable clothing (especially cotton fabrics)
- avoid allergens (if you know what you’re allergic to)
Tell your doctor if you get postpartum hives, even if it only happens once. Get urgent medical care if you have postpartum hives and other serious allergy symptoms, like:
- swelling of the face, lips, tongue, mouth, or throat
- difficulty breathing
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- other anaphylaxis symptoms
See your doctor right away if you get hives more than once, if they don’t go away after a few days, or if you have serious itching. You might need medical treatment for the underlying cause of the postpartum hives.
Also tell your doctor immediately if you get a skin rash and you’re not sure if it’s hives or something else.
Hives are a symptom of something else going on in your body, like allergies. Postpartum hives can happen for several reasons, even if you’ve never had allergies or other skin rashes before. They’re typically harmless to you and your baby.
However, you might need treatment if you have serious postpartum hives or if the cause of the hives is a chronic condition. Don’t take or apply any kind of medication for hives without checking with your doctor. This is especially important if you’re breastfeeding your baby.