Pregnancy is a time of joy and anticipation. But as your baby and belly grow, pregnancy can also become a time of discomfort.
If you’re experiencing itchy skin, you’re not alone. Though mild skin irritation is usually harmless, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms. In later pregnancy, itchy skin could be the sign of a medical problem.
Here are some reasons you might be experiencing discomfort, some simple at-home treatments, and notes on when you should call your doctor.
Your skin is put to the test as your body morphs with each new stage of pregnancy. As your belly and breasts get bigger, the skin around them stretches. You might notice stretch marks, redness, and itching in these areas.
Chafing from clothing or skin-on-skin rubbing can make matters worse. It can even lead to rashes and irritated patches.
Eczema is one of the most common skin irritants during pregnancy. Even women without a history of irritation and inflammation from eczema can develop it, usually in the first two trimesters. Symptoms of eczema include itching, rash, inflammation, and burning sensations.
Eczema that occurs for the first time during pregnancy is called atopic eruption of pregnancy (AEP). Women with prior eczema who notice a flare-up while pregnant also are experiencing AEP. Patches of inflamed skin generally develop around your knees, elbows, wrists, and neck. The condition will not affect your baby and typically resolves after delivery.
Those of you who deal with psoriasis, a common condition that causes thick patches of red, itchy, dry skin, will be happy to learn that symptoms generally improve during pregnancy. But in an article published in Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, researchers mention that some women will experience continued skin issues.
The treatments favored during pregnancy include topical corticosteroids and ultraviolet B phototherapy.
For itching caused by stretched or chafed skin, eczema, or psoriasis, try a tepid oatmeal bath. Blend together oats, baking soda, and milk powder in a food processor. Then scoop 1/4 cup of this mixture into your bath water and soak for 20 minutes.
If you use a recipe that calls for essential oils, check with your doctor before putting them in the mix. Some aren’t safe for pregnancy, and the bath will be just as effective without them.
Lotions and Salves
There are a number of lotions and salves that can soothe irritated skin. Cocoa butter is great for dry, stretched skin, and it’s readily available at most drugstores. Try applying cocoa butter in the morning after you dry off from a shower and at night before heading to bed.
If you have eczema, speak with your doctor. Many lotions aren’t recommended during pregnancy or can only be used in small doses. Try to avoid triggers and allergens that worsen your condition. Avoiding harsh soaps can also keep your skin happier and healthier.
Wear Loose Clothing
To ward off chafing, wear loose, comfortable clothing made from natural fibers (like cotton) that let your body move and your skin breathe.
Though it may be hard, also avoid itching as much as possible. You’ll only make your skin angrier and cause more irritation.
Severe itching in the third trimester might be caused by intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (IPC) or obstetric cholestasis.
This condition occurs in response to impaired liver function, possibly due to pregnancy hormones, or changes to the digestive process. Bile acids that normally flow out of your liver accumulate in your skin and other tissues. This causes itching.
IPC may run in families, so ask your mom, sister, aunt, or grandmother if they had it during pregnancy. You’re also at higher risk if you’re carrying twins, have a family history of liver disease, or experienced cholestasis in a previous pregnancy.
Symptoms of cholestasis may include:
- itchiness all over (especially on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet)
- itching that worsens in overnight hours
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of eyes)
- nausea or upset stomach
- right side upper belly pain
- dark urine/pale stools
Your symptoms should disappear soon after you deliver and your liver function returns to normal. Unfortunately, IPC can have serious consequences for your baby, so mention increased itching or related symptoms to your doctor. IPC can lead to an increased risk of stillbirth, premature birth, and fetal distress, among other complications.
Your doctor may prescribe ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) to improve your liver function and reduce bile acid buildup. If your IPC is particularly advanced, your doctor may also discuss delivering your baby soon after his lungs have matured or earlier, depending on the severity of your case.
Each treatment plan is unique, so discuss any concerns you have with your doctor.
When to Call Your Doctor
If itching becomes severe, is concentrated on your palms or soles, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea or jaundice, call your doctor. These are all signs of intrahepatic cholestasis and require medical attention for you and your baby.
Also let your doctor know before you try any over-the-counter itch remedies, because some might not be safe for pregnant women.
You don’t need to suffer through eczema or psoriasis, either. Ask your doctor which treatments are available to you during your pregnancy. Don’t take any prescriptions without speaking with your doctor first.
For most women, itchiness during pregnancy is annoying and will calm down after delivery. For others, it may signal that something is wrong. Regardless, try some at-home treatment methods to soothe your itchy skin and contact your doctor for specific suggestions.