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Itchiness During Pregnancy

Itchiness During Pregnancy

Maternity is a beautiful time full of love and growth, but it can also be accompanied by some pretty uncomfortable side effects. One of these is itchy skin. That’s right ladies, in addition to the swollen ankles and uncontrollable sobbing, we’ll also get itchy. Aren’t we lucky?


If you’ve never heard of this before, you’re not alone. It’s not often discussed, but about 20 percent of soon-to-be mommas experience itchy skin, according to the Office on Women’s Health. But fret not, we’re here to help you get a better understanding of why this happens and what you can do about it (besides eating chocolate, which is always our second recommendation).


In this article:


What Causes Itchy Skin During Pregnancy?

Itchy skin during pregnancy is typically caused by the increased blood supply, the increase in hormones in your blood, and dry skin. Additionally, as the baby grows the skin over your abdomen will stretch, this can also cause you to feel itchy. It should also be noted that pre-existing skin conditions like eczema can become worse during pregnancy.


In severe cases, the cause can also be a liver condition called obstetric cholestasis. Thankfully, this is relatively uncommon. Doctors are not yet sure what causes it, it is believed however that it has something to do with the hormones associated with pregnancy as they can slow down the normal flow of your bile. Obstetric cholestasis causes bile salts in your liver to build up and then enter the bloodstream, which causes more severe itchiness.


Is It Normal To Have Itchy Skin While Pregnant?

As irritating as it can be, in most cases it is completely normal to feel some mild itchiness during your pregnancy. Mild itchiness isn’t harmful to you or your developing baby. If the itching is more severe or you develop a concerning rash and intense itchiness on the bottoms of your feet and your palms, your doctor can evaluate you to determine if it’s normal pregnancy itch or part of a larger developing condition like obstetric cholestasis.


Luckily, there are several easy ways to reduce and prevent any mild itchiness associated with an otherwise normal pregnancy. So, put down the back scratcher, stock up on snacks, and get ready to find out how to make yourself more comfortable in your pregnancy skin.


How To Reduce Itching During Pregnancy

If you’re feeling itchiness during your pregnancy, the most important thing to do is to avoid scratching. We know this is definitely easier said than done, but scratching can further irritate your skin, increase your itchiness, and even lead to an infection if done too aggressively. Instead, try taking a cool bath and then applying some lotion to the affected areas. Light some candles and sink in. This process can also help to relieve any anxiety or stress, which would otherwise make your itching worse. A warm oatmeal bath is another great option. 


Most of the time, these techniques should be enough to help reduce the itchiness to a bearable level. If this doesn’t help or only helps temporarily, make sure that you’re not using soaps or lotions that contain strong perfumes or lots of chemicals. Switching to plain products with lighter scents and fewer chemicals could be the key.


If a bath doesn’t sound appealing to you or you need an alternative for when you’re not at home, you can also try applying ice packs or cool, damp compresses. Pick one and apply it to the itchy area for 5-10 minutes at a time until the itching fades away.


How To Prevent Itching During Pregnancy

Pregnancy-related itchiness can be prevented by making small and simple changes. Consider wearing looser clothing, without tight-fitting clothes rubbing against your skin, you can avoid skin irritation that may be causing the itch. And who isn’t happy to have such a good excuse to wear looser clothing after all that rocky road ice-cream on the couch? 


You can also try skipping clothes made out of synthetic materials. Cotton and other natural fabrics let the air circulate closer to your skin, which may also help prevent itchiness. The more natural products and garments you choose, the better chance you’ll have of skipping the pregnancy itch.


Lastly, avoid the heat when possible. Heat can further dry out your skin and make you even more itchy. 


When To Call Your Doctor About Itchiness During Pregnancy

If you’re experiencing other symptoms along with the itchiness, such as dark urine, pale bowel movements, rashes, or jaundice, you should schedule a visit with your doctor. These other symptoms may be caused by obstetric cholestasis and the itching may be one if its side effects. This condition occurs in less than 1 out of every 100+ pregnant women. It’s not very common and will typically go away once the pregnancy is over, that being said you should still see your doctor if you suspect you are affected by it. 


Your doctor will conduct a physical exam of the itchy areas so that they can better diagnose the problem and recommend the right treatment option for you. They may also give you a referral to a dermatologist if they think that another specialist may be able to help you more effectively.


Office On Women's Health, Body changes and discomforts, January 2019.

UTSouthwestern Medical Center, 6 skin problems that can develop during pregnancy, September 2016.

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  • Amanda Lips
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