Itching in pregnancy: causes and how to deal with it

Itchy skin during pregnancy is common, but that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable - or worrying, if you're unsure what's causing it

We asked Dr Rebecca Hayes, clinical lead at Doctor Care Anywhere and dermatology specialist, for her advice on what to do if you find yourself suffering from itching during pregnancy. 

The first thing to do if you're experiencing itching at any point during your pregnancy is to look at your skin and feel it; run your hand over the itchy areas – has it changed?


If your skin looks normal...

Mild itching in pregnancy is very common; hormonal changes and blood supply will change how your skin feels. Apply lots of moisturiser as often as you feel you need to - keeping a supply in the fridge and applying it cold can be very soothing. Any moisturiser will do, E45 and Bio-Oil are good basic ones to use.

If the itching is very bad - particularly if it is affecting your sleep or badly distracting you - see your GP or midwife. Very rarely it can be a sign of bile build-up and a condition called cholestasis of pregnancy, for which you'll need a liver blood test:

"I suffered from 33 weeks with itching, and it was cholestasis of pregnancy. Ended up being induced three weeks later. Literally felt like I had spiders crawling all over me. It didn't show up initially on the first test, but the itching was just getting worse and worse so I took myself into the hospital."

"Mine started around 33/34 weeks, but the itching wasn't as bad as expected and I doubted it was anything serious. It sounds like a lot of hassle, but you should really push to get tested for it just in case - I was induced at 37 weeks."

If your skin has changed...

...then it's likely to be dermatalogical, rather than a symptom of other complications. You might be suffering from a condition unrelated to pregnancy which just happens to have flared up - like eczema, scabies or a fungal infection, which your GP can help with - or it could be one of the following pregnancy-specific conditions:

Prurigo of pregnancy

This condition, where itchy lumps and bumps appear on any part of the body, can occur at any stage of pregnancy. It's pretty common, and you'll often see visible scratch marks. Fortunately it's not serious and doesn't cause any complications - but do see your GP for confirmation. It's treated with moisturiser and, in more serious cases, some steroid cream.

PUPP – Pruritic Urticated Papules of Pregnancy (Polymorphous eruption of pregnancy)

Women who are pregnant for the first time, or expecting twins, are more likely to be affected by this relatively common condition. It occurs in the third trimester (27 weeks onwards) and resolves after birth. You'll see itchy lumps and large plaques (flatter, wider lumps), initially appearing along existing stretch marks on your abdomen. It then spreads down the legs and arms, and can look rather alarming. It is best to get examined by your GP - they might shine a florescent light on your abdomen to confirm the diagnosis.

Fortunately, PUPP is not serious and doesn't pose any risk to your pregnancy. It is, however, very itchy and uncomfortable - use a moisturiser to soothe it. If it's pretty severe, your GP might recommend topical steroids or antihistamines, but don't apply these unless on medical advice.

Pemphigoid Gestationis

This is a much rarer skin condition which usually starts in the second trimester (weeks 13-27), though it can occur at any point during pregnancy - and occasionally after you've given birth. It presents as itchy lumps, bumps, plaques, hives and blisters on the abdomen, but can occur on other parts of the body too - seek advice from your GP, who may advise seeing a dermatologist for confirmation of the diagnosis and treatment.


Relieving symptoms - what worked for other Mumsnetters?

  • "The only thing that stops the itching is Weleda stretch mark massage oil."
  • "Use flexible ice packs. They worked wonders for me when I itched like mad during my pregnancies!"
  • "I've been using Lush Dream Cream, which is pretty good, it's got lavender in so it's soothing. Arms, stomach, boobs... does the trick!"
  • "As odd as it sounds, try Germolene or a standard over-the-counter cream that has an anaesthetic in - it dulls the itch a tiny bit. Also helps to have cool showers and leave your bump out at night (this requires imaginative positioning of duvet...)"
  • "Try pine tar soap (or coal tar soap) - you can buy it online. If you lather it all up and then let it dry on the skin for a while before washing it off, it does take the edge off the itching. I found it really helpful at night - it calmed it down enough for me to be able to sleep, at least."
  • "I used calamine cream and it really worked."
  • "Ice cold green aloe vera gel is your new best friend!"
  • "I have sensitive skin and it got way worse during my pregnancy - I found bathing daily in E45 Bath and using Head and Shoulders anti-itch shampoo helped, but didn't fix it."
  • "The only thing that helped me was dissolving some baking soda in warm water, and then using a flannel to rub it all over the itchy part of my skin."


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Last updated: 11 months ago