Pregnancy Itching: Is It Normal?
You know what to expect while you’re expecting, but sometimes, pregnancy can throw you a curveball.
Such is the case with itchy skin. What might start as mild itching near your ever-expanding belly can rapidly turn into an entire area that itches day and night.
If you’re scratching your head about why your skin is so itchy, we have some answers.
While there can be many reasons your skin itches while pregnant, here are some of the most common reasons.
What Causes Itching During Pregnancy?
Itching skin during pregnancy is normal. Here are a few reasons why it can happen.
Parts of your body quickly expand when you are pregnant. As your skin stretches, it can feel tight and itchy.
Stretch marks are common and are not entirely preventable.
If you are experiencing itchiness on your abdomen, arms, or legs, it could be because your skin is working double duty to cover your new body.
Hormonal changes are the reason behind nearly every pregnancy symptom you’ll experience.
Specifically, your body produces more estrogen and progesterone as your pregnancy progresses, and researchers have studied the effects of these pregnancy hormones on your skin.
Also known as prurigo of pregnancy, this condition produces small, red, itchy bumps on the skin.
Prurigo is a type of papular dermatitis that can develop during any portion of your pregnancy but is usually most common in the second and third trimesters.
It’s not entirely clear what causes prurigo to form. Still, researchers think it could be due to lowered immune systems in the pregnant person, increased blood flow, or underlying medical conditions like cholestasis.
Symptoms of prurigo include small, itchy bumps on the arms, legs, and stomach.
Prurigo isn’t harmful to you or your baby and will usually go away within a few weeks after delivery.
Your doctor can help you get relief with steroid creams and other topical treatments.
Obstetric cholestasis is a rare liver disease that develops during pregnancy. It causes excess bile acids in the liver and bloodstream, which can cause severe itching.
Typically, this condition occurs later in pregnancy, usually during the late second and third trimesters.
Keep an eye on any potential symptoms of cholestasis.
This condition can present risks to your pregnancy; the only way to determine if you have it is to get a test from your doctor.
Dry skin is common during pregnancy, usually because the body needs more water than it does when you are not pregnant.
Your skin can become dry, flaky, and itchy if you don’t drink enough water.
Dry skin can also occur due to environmental changes. If you have indoor heating systems during pregnancy, you may experience a higher rate of dry skin than during warmer weather when you use air conditioning.
Contact your dermatologist if you are concerned that your dry skin could be eczema or dermatoses.
Dyes, Perfumes, and Fabric Care Products
Even if you have used the same products for years, they can become irritating to your skin when you are pregnant because your immune system isn’t as strong when you are pregnant.
Your body uses this safety mechanism to avoid any attack on the baby.
Due to lowered immunity, your body may respond to chemicals differently, resulting in contact dermatitis.
Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy (PUPPP)
PUPPP refers to a rash of bumps that can form on your skin, especially around stretch marks, during the latter portion of your pregnancy.
PUPPP rash can be itchy, painful, and spread to other parts of your body. It’s harmless to your body and your baby and will clear up once your baby arrives.
Symptoms of PUPPP can be pimple-like blisters and bumps that form around stretch marks, itching, and nighttime skin irritation. PUPPP usually goes away on its own after your due date.
Is Itching During Pregnancy Normal?
Some itching during pregnancy can be expected, especially in the second trimester.
However, if itchy skin is interfering with your daily activities or if the itching becomes severe, it could be an indication of a more significant issue.
What About Vaginal Itching?
Some pregnant people report having vaginal itching during pregnancy.
Vaginal itching can be common and does not typically indicate a problem unless it is accompanied by other symptoms, like unusual discharge or odor.
How Can I Deal With Itching During Pregnancy?
If you have an itch you (literally) can’t scratch away, we’ve got some solutions to help you get relief.
Try calamine lotion if your regular body lotion isn’t reducing your symptoms.
Calamine has calming, soothing properties that work for itchy skin.
You can also try an occlusive therapy, like Vaseline or Aquaphor, to cover the affected area and help reduce any swelling or irritation you may have from scratching it.
Drink More Water
If you are dehydrated, your skin will know.
Pregnant people should drink eight to 10 glasses of water per day.
Other liquids count towards this goal, but subtract caffeinated beverages, as these can have a diuretic effect and cause you to lose water.
Try an Oatmeal Bath
An oatmeal bath is a home remedy that can help soothe skin irritation.
To try it at home — ground one cup of whole oats into a fine powder and add them to a warm bath. You can also fill a sock with whole oats and submerge it in the bath.
Be sure to keep the bath temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit and only stay submerged for 15 to 20 minutes. Maintaining your core body temperature is important for staying safe during pregnancy.
Staying in a hot bath for too long can raise your body temperature too high. Try a cool bath if your body temperature is too high.
Switch to Fragrance-Free
Many companies now offer fragrance-free versions of their laundry care items, making it possible for you to continue using the brand you love without itchy skin.
Switching to fragrance and dye-free products while pregnant may help you avoid itchy skin.
You might also consider discontinuing perfume and perfumed lotions until your pregnancy is complete.
Wear Non-Irritating Clothing
There probably aren’t many pregnant people wearing wool, but avoiding itchy, tight clothing can keep you comfortable and prevent you from scratching as much.
Try to purchase maternity bottoms with a comfortable, stretchy waistband that will move with you and gently support your belly without causing friction or irritation.
Wearing loose clothes will lessen skin irritation for pregnant women.
Use a Humidifier in Your Room
If you itch more at night, try using a humidifier in your room. It keeps the air moist, which can help your skin stay hydrated.
This is especially important if you live in dry, arid environments.
Try an Anti-Itch Cream
Most over-the-counter anti-itch creams are safe to use when you are pregnant.
If your itching is localized to one particular area, using an anti-itch cream can give you relief.
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When Should I See a Doctor?
If you have intense itching that won’t go away with the treatments listed above, or if you have itching with the following symptoms, you should call your doctor.
- Light-colored stool
- Dark yellow urine
- Feelings of depression or sadness
- Itching on the soles of the feet
These symptoms could indicate you have cholestasis, which requires medical attention and management.
Usually, this condition (along with the intense itching) goes away once you deliver your baby.
Cholestasis carries a higher risk of stillbirth and preterm labor, so it’s essential to have your doctor test you for this condition if you suspect you have it.
How Can I Maintain Healthy Pregnancy Skin?
Pregnancy skin gets put through the wringer, and you can support your skin by taking good care of it while pregnant.
Use a Moisturizer Daily
Your stretching skin needs moisture to keep it lubricated to stretch without becoming dry and flaking.
Using a fragrance-free moisturizer that includes cocoa butter, shea butter, or coconut oil can help keep your skin hydrated and can give your skin antioxidant protection.
Use Sunscreen Daily
Sun damage can cause skin issues like melasma, a common pigmentation issue during pregnancy, to become worse.
If you have a rash or skin condition during pregnancy, your skin could be more sensitive to sun damage. Make sure you use sunscreen daily during your pregnancy.
Supporting a Healthy Pregnancy
Your pregnancy is an exciting time while you prepare for your baby, but itchy skin can distract you from life and make you uncomfortable.
While some itchiness during pregnancy is common and expected, some severe itching (with other symptoms) could indicate a more serious issue.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you suspect you are suffering from a more serious condition than just dry, stretchy skin.
There may be treatment options to help you get relief from your itching skin and help you stay comfortable during the remainder of your pregnancy.
References, Studies and Sources:
Scars and Stretch Marks | American Academy of Dermatology
Prevalence and Relevance of Pruritus in Pregnancy | PMC
Prurigo Of Pregnancy: Causes, Treatment & What It Looks Like | Cleveland Clinic
Skin Allergies | Causes, Symptoms & Treatment | ACAAI Public Website
Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
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