Eczema is an irritating skin condition that can get worse, or even flare up out of nowhere, during pregnancy. But there are ways to ease the discomfort even if medicines are off limits.
What are the causes?
I developed eczema in my mid-twenties and pregnancy really got it raging. I’d never had it as a child but it does run in my family on both sides. As with so many other changes in pregnancy, hormones are often the cause of an eczema flare-up. But it’s not always bad news.
“While over half of women with eczema find that their eczema gets worse during pregnancy, about one in four finds it improves”, explains Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and Clinical Consultant at Patient.co.uk.
For betsygrub, on our forum, her eczema got better during pregnancy, “I have always had bad eczema, it has got better whilst I have been pregnant…”.
I’m not sure that the fact my eczema got worse, especially on my hands and legs, during my pregnancy was actually anything to do with the pregnancy itself, but more likely the fact that I stopped using my usual topical steroid creams which I didn’t want to use while I was pregnant.
Camlo chatting on the MFM forums says, “I had it with my 1st son and it lasted for a few years after. Nothing with my 2nd and now I am 17 weeks and it has flared up again really bad. It’s only on my fingers and I’ve had to remove my wedding ring and it’s driving me crazy”.
Which over the counter remedies can I use?
“Moisturisers are the mainstay of treatment for anyone with eczema, and pregnancy is no exception”, explains Sarah. “While you don’t need huge quantities, you do need to apply them frequently – they replace fluid lost from the upper layers of the skin and also prevent fluid being lost”.
She also recommends using unscented, uncoloured moisturisers to reduce the chance of further irritation and inflammation. “ Using a soap substitute such as aqueous cream is safe and will reduce the drying effect of frequent washing”.
And there are lots of suggestions to try from suffers on our forums. Betsygrub suggests “try oatmeal baths, put porridge oats in a muslin and secure with a bobble, or use the end of an old pair of tights and put it in your bath as you run it, it makes it really creamy”.
Balisugar says, “I used to try and wrap my legs up in bandages to stop me from attacking them during the night which did help. Another good thing to use, which is completely natural, is aloe from an aloe vera plant. I used to cut off the stems and rub the gel on my eczema, this really soothes and also really helps clear it up”.
Can I use steroid creams? Are they safe?
“While high dose steroids – such as those used for people who need to take steroid tablets – can have a variety of side effects, milder steroid creams rarely cause side- effects if they’re used sensibly”, explains Sarah.
However, most GPs and midwives usually recommend that, if possible, you avoid using the strongest forms of topical steroid cream during pregnancy. There is some evidence that the steroids can be absorbed into your bloodstream and affect your baby’s growth.
“It is usually recommended that you use the lowest dose you can, in the smallest amount and for the shortest time possible to control your symptoms”, explains Sarah.
Lelly did use steroid cream to treat her pregnancy eczema she says, “I have had eczema and I have used my steroid creams all through pregnancy….under my Drs direction, I have Eumovate at the moment which works perfectly and I just make sure I keep thoroughly moisturised as well!”.
I opted to ditch my steroid creams and used a simple aqueous cream during the whole of my pregnancy. I paid for it in the fact that my eczema got worse, but it made me feel more comfortable.
Faithie says, “I got eczema on my feet while I was pregnant and the GP said that she would try non steriod creams first as it is preferable to avoid steroid creams in pregnancy but if it didn’t respond it was a case of weighing up the benefits to mum against the potential risk to the baby (which is minimal anyway)”.
Is it something I’m using that is causing my eczema?
Washing powder is often blamed for eczema, but in fact it’s rarely a culprit. Soap and cleaning products, though, play a major role. “Soap and many bath products have a drying effect on the skin and contain Sodium Laurel Sulphate, used to create bubbles in many products, which tends to make eczema worse”, says Sarah.
She adds, “But your environment also plays a role. Heat, cold, too much water or a dry environment (such as the dry atmosphere created by central heating), as well as wind, can all dry the skin out, making symptoms worse”.
So it’s gloves in winter, avoid over-washing your hands, and slap on the moisturiser as many times as you can during the day. I had a large pot in my bathroom as well as an easy-to-carry tube in my handbag, so that it was always with me.
Will my baby have eczema?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to predict which genes your baby will get from you and your partner, so you can’t change the chances of your baby inheriting eczema from you.
So far, my daughter has shown no signs of eczema and I really hope that she escapes it, but as I didn’t get mine until my twenties, who knows?
As a precaution, try to keep your newborn’s skin well moisturised with a simple lotion, and make sure his or her clothes are made from soft natural fabrics such as cotton. Use a mild washing powder or liquid and always rinse clothes thoroughly.