It’s up there with the more unexpected of pregnancy symptoms. Yet being itchy is actually one of the most common skin problems in pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about it.
1. Itching in pregnancy has a logical cause
That super-irritating itch is caused by your skin stretching. Your growing uterus causes the skin around the belly to stretch yet the oil glands cannot meet their normal moisture requirement. That’s why you’ll find you have dry and itchy skin that’s often worse on your tummy and legs (Kenyon et al, 2010; NHS Choices, 2016a).
Your hormones changing can also make the itch worse (British Association of Dermatologists, 2018). If you usually get eczema, it can get worse while you’re pregnant (Ambros-Rudolph, 2011; NHS Choices, 2016b).
2. It is normal for severe itching to get you down
While friends and family may not take itching as a symptom seriously, a severe itch can be more than irritating. Severe itching can lead to poor sleep, exhaustion and can really get you down (Rungsiprakarn, et al, 2016).
3. Itching in pregnancy can be a sign of something more serious
Itching can be a symptom of a liver condition called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), also known as obstetric cholestasis (OC). Obstetric cholestasis is often different to a normal itch as it affects the palms of your hands and soles of your feet.
Obstetric cholestasis can also cause your wee to be dark and your poo to be pale (RCOG, 2011). Obstetric cholestasis affects 1 in 140 women pregnant women in the UK and it needs medical attention (NHS Choices, 2016c).
4. Evening or night itching could ring alarm bells
Mild itching is not usually harmful to you or your baby. But if you’re notice itching more during the evening or at night, it could be a sign of a more serious condition. Make sure you talk to your midwife or doctor about this as they can decide whether you need any further investigations (NHS Choices, 2016c).
5. It is possible to ease the itching
You could help prevent mild itching by wearing loose clothes in natural materials like cotton to let air circulate. You could also try having cool baths and applying moisturiser or lotion to help soothe the itching. Make sure you avoid any strongly perfumed products as they can make your itch worse (NHS Choices, 2016c).
This page was last reviewed in April 2018.
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Ambros-Rudolph CM. (2011) Dermatoses of pregnancy - clues to diagnosis, fetal risk and therapy. Ann Dermatol(3):265-275. doi: 10.5021/ad.2011.23.3.265. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21909194 [Accessed 1st March 2018].
British Association of Dermatologists. (2018) Polymorphic eruption of pregnancy. http://www.bad.org.uk/shared/get-file.ashx?id=227&itemtype=document
Kenyon AP, Tribe RM, Nelson-Piercy C, Girling JC, Williamson C, Seed PT,
Vaughan-Jones S, Shennan AH. (2010) Pruritus in pregnancy: a study of anatomical distribution and prevalence in relation to the development of obstetric cholestasis. Obstet Med 3(1):25-29. doi: 10.1258/om.2010.090055. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27582836 [Accessed 1st March 2018].
NHS Choices. (2016c) Itching and intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/itching-obstetric-cholestasis-pregnant/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
NHS. (2016a) Itching and intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/itching-obstetric-cholestasis-pregnant/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
NHS. (2016b) Atopic eczema - causes. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/atopic-eczema/causes/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
RCOG. (2011) Obstetric cholestasis. Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/guidelines-research-services/guidelines/gtg43/ [Accessed 1st March 2018].
Rungsiprakarn P, Laopaiboon M, Sangkomkamhang US, Lumbiganon P. (2016)
Pharmacological interventions for generalised itching (not caused by systemic
disease or skin lesions) in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2:CD011351. doi: 10.1002/14651858. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26891962 [Accessed 1st March 2018].