Itchy skin in pregnancy
Itchy bumps, hands, feet and eyes are all normal and fairly common during pregnancy - but when do the signs point to something more serious? And how can you relieve that itchy feeling?
Belly itch, bump itch, tummy itch, abdominal itching (that's the doctors' term) - whatever you call it, it's super-irritating.
It's also pretty common, usually not very serious, and there are things you can do to minimise that urge to scraaaaaatch.
Mind you, during pregnancy, you can experience itchy skin just about anywhere, and in this article, we’ll explain what the deal is with the most common areas: itchy bumps, itchy hands and feet and itchy eyes...
"2 thirds of women complain about itchy skin when they're pregnant," says midwife Janine Smith.
"Most often, it’s an itchiness centred on your bump but it's not uncommon to find your feet itch something rotten, too.”
As soon as your body starts to change shape, your skin begins to stretch, especially over your tummy.
For some of us, the stretching can mean your skin gets drier than usual in those areas, and increasingly moisture-deprived skin can feel itchy and uncomfortable.
The hormonal changes you’re going through make an impact, as your body is producing an increased amount of oestrogen throughout your pregnancy and that can trigger itchier than usual skin.
Your body temperature is also rising (related to the fact your basal metabolic rate goes up in pregnancy), so that can also lead to swelling and add to the itch factor.
One MFM mum, SouthernBelle, has been there: “I am especially [itchy on] legs and arms, even side of my face! I'm 10 weeks… can't sleep so thought I’d have a rant”.
Another forum member PumpkinPatch says: “With my first pregnancy I had that itching. It drove me insane!! I used to wake in the morning covered in scratches. I would look like I’d been attacked by a cat and the hoover LoL. Touch wood I have had very little of that this time round.”
During pregnancy, at least a half of all women experience red, sore-looking skin on the palms of their hands or the soles of their feet. Often, these itch too, albeit it usually only mildly.
"Obviously, you get hotter," notes midwife Janine. "This causes hands and feet to sweat more often – which can also cause itchiness."
Podiatrist Junaid Ahmed from Feet4Life also adds: "Itchiness and other foot problems, such as corns and calluses, can build up more quickly when you're pregnant, especially in the later trimester when your weight increases and your feet can swell."
If you get irritable rashes, though, then do see your doctor to make sure you find a treatment that is safe to apply to your skin when you are expecting.
Hormones, hormones, hormones - that’s why! This time, it’s the hormone androgen behind your uncomfortable eyes.
There are a few other things going on with your eyes and your vision while you're pregnant - so make sure to check out our full guide to blurred vision, dry and itchy eyes during pregnancy.
Is it normal to itch while pregnant?
For most women, abdominal itchiness and feeling the urge to itch various parts of your skin is a common, and annoying, pregnancy symptom.
Fortunately, it’s typically nothing to worry about - though there are a number of other pregnancy conditions that start with intense itching, like scabies and eczema, so it’s important to keep an eye on your symptoms.
If you have an itchy rash on your tummy, it might be Polymorphic Eruption of Pregnancy (PEP), which despite the horrific name, is actually pretty harmless. However, severe itching (and we mean severe) all over could be a sign of a more serious liver condition called Obstetric Cholestasis (OC).
“If the itching becomes really painful and constant," says Junaid, "and especially if you're itching all over your body, do seek advice from your midwife or GP.”
What is Obstetric Cholestasis (OC)?
OC is a liver condition that affects around 1 in 140 pregnancies in the UK. The exact cause of isn’t fully understood but it’s thought that it develops when you become oversensitive to pregnancy hormones.
You’re more likely to develop OC if you have a family history of the condition, are of Indian and Pakistani origin, or if you've had OC in a previous pregnancy. A blood test will confirm if you have OC.
More like this
Obstetric Cholestasis (OC) causes constant and intense itching all over your body that starts on the arms, legs and hands and soles of the feet.
It usually occurs in the last 4 months of pregnancy. Because it’s often worse at night, many mums-to-be report sleeplessness and exhaustion (on top of the usual pregnancy insomnia). Other symptoms include dark urine, jaundice, and pale-coloured poo ?
As always, if you’re concerned about anything, discuss with your midwife or GP.
Will Obstetric Cholestasis affect my baby?
If you have OC, you’ll be monitored you closely by your midwife and doctor and you’ll be given medication to control the itching.
There is some research that links OC with premature labour, stillbirth and distress for your unborn baby. For this reason, it’s common for your baby to be delivered between 37/38 weeks of pregnancy, although this isn’t always the case.
MFM forum user Slepybabybee says: “Had it in my first pregnancy and went full term under observation, had no problems with vaginal birth. Baby was and still is totally fine!
"Been under observation again with this pregnancy and so far it’s not come back."
How to relieve itchy skin during pregnancy
So, you’re having an itchy moment - how do you deal? The idea thing to do, of course, would be to just stop itching… but that’s so much easier said than done.
“My feet were so itchy, I would literally rub them with a hair brush to ease the itching!" says MFMer KB.
Yikes! Here are some other remedies to try:
- Try using mild, unperfumed or pH-balanced shower gel or body wash
- Take a cool bath or soak hands and feet in cool water - plus cut back on the hot baths
- Smooth some calamine lotion onto your itchy patches, or add some oatmeal to your bath
- Slather some cooling moisturiser on your hands, feet or belly
- Avoid tight-fitting shoes and clothes, favouring loose, breathable fabrics like cotton
P.S. It’s fine to use your favourite lotions, creams and oil, as long as you check they're safe for pregnancy use (avoid avoid brands containing urea, essential oils, salicylic acid or retinoids). Most high-street chemists, such as Boots, sell pregnancy-friendly body creams.
Top tip: ones containing vitamin E may be particularly good for itchy skin ?
If all else fails, you can go rogue and try to find an outside-the-box cure, like MFMer Huxley did. She reveals:
“I bathed in bicarbonate of soda and warm water. Bathed in oatmeal baths. I tried aftersun, calamine lotion, magic-cool spray (which relieved the itch for about 10 mins but cost £6 a tin!), aloe vera cream, e45, aqueous cream and God knows what else.
"After many hours online, I found someone recommending Grandpa Pine tar soap and it was a life saver. Rash was gone and itch gone within 5 days!”