Women's  Healthcare Topics is a website about pregnancy and your newborn baby.

Itchy Skin in Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

What’s Normal and What’s Not

Learn about ways to help relieve your itchy skin in pregnancy.

A common pregnancy symptom in the second trimester is the emergency of itchy skin. As your skin stretches to adapt to your constantly growing pregnant body, you will experience itchiness – especially around the belly and breasts. This is a normal experience and should not bother you at all.

Hormonal changes may also pay a role in making you feel itchy. Some women experience itchiness on their palms and on the soles of their feet. Itchy skin in pregnancy is caused by the elevated levels of estrogen in your body. It will disappear after you delivery your baby.

Normal Itchy Skin: Relief Techniques

While itchy skin is a normal experience in pregnancy, it's not exactly a comfortable sensation. However, you can get relief from your itchiness with an unscented moisturizer. (Scented moisturizer can sometimes cause irritation.) In addition, you may want to avoid hot showers and baths, since this can dry out your skin and make you feel even itchier. Use warm water instead, and remember to slather on that moisturizer afterwards.

In rare cases, severe itching can signify a more serious problem, called cholestasis of pregnancy. Always talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you are concerned.

Cholestasis of Pregnancy (Severe Itching)

Itchy skin is a common pregnancy symptom; however, severe itching may indicate a rare liver problem called cholestasis of pregnancy. Only one or two percent of all pregnant women will develop this condition. Cholestasis can be very uncomfortable for the mother, and it may also place the unborn baby's health at risk.

Cholestasis of pregnancy occurs when there are abnormalities in the flow of bile, which is a digestive fluid that aids your body in the breakdown of fat. Bile is produced in the liver and stored in your gallbladder. Because your pregnancy hormones can affect the function of your gallbladder, this can lead to bile entering your blood stream – which causes cholestasis.

Pregnancy cholestasis is characterized by intense itching, usually in the soles of your feet and on the palms of your hands, however some women itch all over. The itchy may get worse at night, and it may even interfere with their sleep and every day activities. Sometimes, the intense itching is accompanied by dark-colored urine, light-colored bowel movements, yellow skin and yellow eyes (jaundice).

While pregnancy cholestasis is rare, you may be at higher risk of this pregnancy complication if you have a family history of the condition, you have a history of liver damage, you're pregnant with twins, or you become pregnant with in vitro fertilization. If you experienced cholestasis in a previous pregnancy, your risk of developing it in future pregnancies is 70 percent.

This condition is most common in the second and third trimesters. Like with many other pregnancy-related skin conditions, the itchiness will go away shortly after delivery.

Pregnancy cholestasis is uncomfortable for you, but for reasons don't known, it is associated with premature delivery; meconium (baby's first poop) being passed in the womb – this is a sign of fetal distress; and increased risk of respiratory distress syndrome in your baby, due to bile acids entering your baby's lungs. There's also a risk of fetal death (delivery of a stillborn). Because of these complications, your doctor may opt to induce your labor.

If you are experiencing intense itchiness or have any concerns, always talk to your doctor about you worries.

top

Pregnancy A to Z