Women's Healthcare Topics

What should I do if I'm pregnant and itching?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Frustration of Itching

Itching during pregnancy is often a normal side effect, but a frustrating side effect, of pregnancy.

This is particularly the case when your uterus grows and expands to accommodate your new baby and your skin stretches. Pregnancy hormones can also result in some itching during pregnancy as well as changes in your liver enzymes.

Some women experience unusual itching on the soles of their feet or in the palms of your hands while pregnant. This condition may be caused by increasing levels of bile salts from the liver in the body during pregnancy.

Treating Itching During Pregnancy

Typically the best way to treat itchy skin during pregnancy is by using plenty of moisturizer and avoiding drying situations (like hot showers or baths). A mild soap can also help prevent the skin from feeling too dry. Some women find a warm bath with soothing products like oatmeal helps relieve itching skin.

If you do apply a moisturizer, apply it just after getting out of the bath when your skin is still wet. This will help your skin absorb more moisture and prevent itching much better than if you simply apply moisturizer while your skin is dry. Applying a heavy moisturizer like cocoa butter to your abdomen may also help prevent stretch marks or reduce their severity during pregnancy.

Learn the cause of itching in pregnancy.

When Itching During Pregnancy Isn't Ok

Some women develop large patches of itchy bumps along their bellies or a rash along other areas of their skin during pregnancy. Typically this occurs during the last trimester. This condition is called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (or, PUPP). This condition typically pops up first on your stomach, but can spread to other areas of the body including your thighs or arms. While this condition won't harm you or your baby, it does result in severe itching that can be extremely distracting.

In many cases moisturizer alone isn't enough to help cope with PUPP. Some doctors will prescribe a topical agent to help relieve itching, while in very severe cases a course of oral steroids may be appropriate. While uncomfortable and for some, almost 'maddening' this condition fortunately disappears within days after delivery. Usually women will only experience this condition once and not during subsequent deliveries.

Other women develop a rare condition referred to as prurigo during pregnancy. This condition results in small bumps along the body, typically on the feet, legs and hands or arms. These bumps also pose no risk to you or your baby though may result in itching, much like that of a bug bite in the summer.

In even rarer circumstances some women develop an itchy condition that involves itchy outbreaks of hives that transform into lesions that look like small blisters. This condition is referred to as pemphigoid gestationis. Eruptions can occur on the belly, arms or legs. This condition is more serious than the above mentioned conditions as it may contribute to premature labor or preterm delivery. Some babies may also experience fetal growth retardation as a result of this condition. Usually pemphigoid gestationis doesn't occur until the third trimester but some women may experience this condition at the start of pregnancy. If you do develop any kind of rash you should always inform your doctor immediately. Your healthcare provider can evaluate the rash to determine its severity and cause. Fortunately most rashes that occur during pregnancy are not the result of a serious condition and can be easily alleviated with traditional over the counter remedies.

Pregnancy Health Section

What is Cholestasis of Pregnancy

Cholestasis of pregnancy is a rare condition that results from a liver problem. Roughly 2 percent of pregnant women may develop this condition, which occurs when bile fails to flow normally in the small ducts of the liver. This results in bile salt accumulation in the body and can cause excessive itching. This itching is more intense than other forms of itching. Some women scratch so severely they end up with small tears in the skin.

This problem like many other pregnancy related skin conditions clears shortly after delivery. In some cases your doctor may recommend an early induction depending on the severity of your condition. Many women who develop cholestasis of pregnancy will develop the condition in subsequent pregnancies.

Vaginal Itching during Pregnancy

  • Vaginal Yeast Infection - Vaginal yeast infections typically cause the majority of vaginal itching during pregnancy. The itching typically is not associated with a discharge, but when present has a typically white and clumpy (cottage cheese curd like) appearance.

  • Bacterial Vaginosis - Bacterial vaginosis is an infection in the vagina that can cause bad-smelling vaginal discharge and vaginal itching. Bacterial vaginosis is caused by bacteria that are normally found in the vagina. When the amounts of these bacteria change in pregnancy, an infection can happen, resulting in vaginal itching.

  • Trichomonas vaginalis- Trichomonas vaginalis is a common sexually transmitted disease that causes vaginal itching in pregnancy. The classic symptoms are thin watery greenish discharge, vaginal itching, and burning when you urinate.


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