Itchiness is characterized by the feeling of needing to scratch a certain part of your body. It can range from mild and annoying all the way to severe enough to interrupt sleep and other daily activities.
What causes it?
Itchiness in pregnancy can be caused by a few different things, some of which are more serious than others. Most commonly, mild itching that goes away is caused by changes in hormones and weight. Many people notice that their skin gets drier in pregnancy, especially the skin around their stomach and thighs.
A less common cause of itchiness during later pregnancy and postpartum is pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). PUPPP won’t hurt a developing baby, but the itchiness can be almost unbearable for the pregnant person and is accompanied by rashes, red bumps, or hives. A prescription ointment can help reduce the symptoms of this condition. Even though it isn’t dangerous, it needs to be evaluated and diagnosed by your medical provider to rule out other causes.
Another rare, but more serious, cause of itchiness in pregnancy is intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, usually called cholestasis. It is a liver disorder that people can develop when they’re pregnant. It almost always occurs in the third trimester. Symptoms of cholestasis include intense itchiness without a rash, especially of the feet and hands, dark-colored urine, fatigue, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, pale stools, nausea, and a loss of appetite
Mild itchiness, especially around your belly, can usually be treated with an occasional oatmeal bath, unscented creams and moisturizers, loose clothing, and staying away from hot showers or very warm rooms.
Let your provider know if you notice hives or red spots developing on your skin, accompanied by itchiness.
If you’ve been experiencing extreme itchiness on its own or accompanied by nausea, a loss of appetite, fatigue, or any of the other symptoms listed above that are associated with cholestasis, contact your provider right away so that they can order lab work and make a diagnosis. People with cholestasis need close monitoring and, potentially, an induction when they reach full-term.
If you’re experiencing a lot of itchiness but are not sure whether or not it is normal, don’t be afraid to bring this up with your provider. It’s much better to know for sure that what you’re experiencing is harmless.
- “Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy (ICP).” LiverFoundation. American Liver Foundation, 2017. Available at http://www.liverfoundation.org/abouttheliver/info/icp/.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Choleostasis of Pregnancy.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Aug 2014. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cholestasis-of-pregnancy/basics/symptoms/con-20032985.
- “Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy.” AOCD. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, n.d. Available at http://www.aocd.org/?page=PUPPP.
- Victoria Geenes and Catherine Williamson. “Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy.” World J Gastroenterol. 15(17): 2049–2066. Web. May 2009.