Itching in pregnancy

Itching in pregnancy: causes and treatments

There are plenty of reasons you might find yourself developing itchy skin during pregnancy, and it’s often a perfectly normal (albeit extremely irritating) side-effect of being upduffed. Hormonal changes and blood supply in your body during pregnancy mean that your skin can become more sensitive, and stretching skin can also be a cause of unpleasant itchiness.

If the itching is very bad – to the point that it's impacting on your sleep or distracting you – it's worth flagging to your GP or midwife, as unbearable itching can be a symptom of cholestasis. Cholestasis is a liver condition and can be pretty serious, but detected early and monitored by your doctor, both you and your baby should be perfectly fine.

If your skin has changed

If your skin has changed shape, colour or texture since you became pregnant, the itching could be due to a flare-up of a pre-existing condition, such as eczema, scabies or a fungal infection. Do see your GP, who'll be able to diagnose these and advise you on treatment.

There is also a chance you may have developed a pregnancy-specific dermatological complaint, like the ones below.

Prurigo of pregnancy

Prurigo of pregnancy consists of itchy lumps and bumps appearing on any part of your body, and it can occur at any point in your pregnancy. It's fairly common and not serious – but do see your GP for confirmation. You'll be treated with moisturiser, and in more extreme cases, a steroid cream.

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

Ah, an unattractive name for what is, we must confess, a rather unattractive (but relatively common) condition. First-time mothers or those expecting twins are more likely to be affected, and it occurs in the third trimester (27 weeks onwards) but clears up on its own after birth. You'll see itchy lumps of varying sizes, initially appearing alongside stretch marks on your abdomen, and then spreading to your legs and arms. It can look quite alarming, and it's best to get examined by your GP. They might shine a fluorescent light on your abdomen to confirm the diagnosis.

Here's the good news though – despite its alarming appearance, PUPP isn't serious. It can be pretty uncomfortable though, so you'll want to use a moisturiser to soothe it, and if it's severe, your GP might recommend topical steroids or antihistamines – but don't apply these unless your doctor has advised you to.

Pemphigoid Gestationis

Pemphigold Gestationis is a much rarer skin condition, which usually occurs in the second trimester, but can occur at any point in pregnancy, and even occasionally after you've had your baby. It presents as itchy lumps, bumps, hives and blisters on the abdomen and possibly other parts of the body (ouch). Seek advice from your GP, who may advise that you see a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.

Are there any home remedies I can try to relieve my itching?

Pregnant woman applying cream

Applying lots of moisturiser at regular intervals is your best bet for keeping the itch at bay – keeping a supply in the fridge and applying it cold can be very soothing. Any moisturiser will do, but try to go for mild and unperfumed ones such as E45 and Bio-Oil.

Frequent tepid baths and wearing loose cotton clothing can also help soothe your itching and enable the air to get to your skin. Try to avoid getting too hot or too cold, and you may find that steering clear of applying perfume or using perfumed soaps and lotions helps too. Lotions with calamine and aqueous cream with menthol can also help – and here are some remedies that Mumsnetters recommend for beating the itch in pregnancy:

  • “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.”

Finally, it goes without saying – do try not to scratch your skin too much, as this can lead to further irritation.

If your skin has not changed but you're still very itchy

Severe itching without a rash during pregnancy can be a symptom of cholestasis – though confusingly, some women with cholestasis do develop a rash. The best advice is to mention any severe itching to your midwife or GP.

Does my itchy skin have something to do with my baby's gender?

Alas, no – 'tis but an old wives' tale.

When should I see my doctor about itchiness during pregnancy?

It's always best to raise any concerns with your doctor or midwife, even if they seem trivial. They will be able to advise you on potential treatments and monitor your condition in case there is any change throughout your pregnancy.

Can itchiness harm my baby?

In most cases, your itchiness will have no impact at all on your baby – they'll continue to grow quite happily inside the womb whilst you try to refrain from clawing your own skin off. However – as mentioned previously – severe itching could be an indication of cholestasis, so (and we're beginning to sound like a broken record) it's worth flagging it to your doctor or midwife.

What other skin changes might I see in pregnancy?

The many joys that come with pregnancy include a variety of skin changes – you may develop stretch marks, dark patches or linea nigra – a vertical line along your belly which darkens during pregnancy.