Scratch My Itch

Itchy Belly

Most pregnant women find that as their breasts, abdomen, and buttocks stretch to accommodate the baby, there's some itching in these areas. There may be a hormonal component to this phenomenon, too. In general, this type of itching is nothing to worry about and it goes away with the birth of your infant.

There are some pregnant women who experience redness and itching on their palms and on the soles of their feet. This is due to increasing levels of maternal estrogen and tends to disappear after delivery. It's also true that if you have allergies that cause you to feel itchy when you eat certain foods or come into contact with certain items, you may find that pregnancy increases such reactions.

Don't Scrub

The best way to deal with the itchiness is to avoid anything that would tend to dry your skin and exacerbate the problem. Avoid taking very hot showers or baths, use a mild soap, rinse well, and don't scrub or rub. Then use a moisturizer that's noncomedogenic and unscented so as to avoid further irritation of your tender skin.

Some women find oatmeal baths soothing and you can buy oatmeal bath powder in any drugstore. Try to wear clothing of natural fabrics like cotton, and avoid going out during the hottest part of the day, since heat can make the itching worse.

A very small percentage of pregnant women, about 1%, get a red rash, with itchy bumps and hives on their abdomens. This condition is known as pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPP) and is sometimes called a polymorphic eruption of pregnancy.

PUPP is more common among women carrying for the first time, or in women carrying twins and tends to occur during the third trimester. The condition is not serious and cannot hurt you or your baby, but the itching can be very maddening. If you think you may have PUPP, see your doctor, who can prescribe a soothing, topical ointment. In some severe cases, physicians may recommend antihistamines or even oral steroids.

Most of the time, PUPP goes away a short while after delivery, though this is not always the case. PUPP may stick around for several weeks, and there are rare cases in which the symptoms begin only after delivery.

Another skin condition of pregnancy that is even rarer than PUPP is prurigo of pregnancy or papular eruptions of pregnancy. This rash tends to come out on the arms, hands, legs, and feet and consists of lots of tiny bumps that look a lot like bug bites. There's no risk posed to mother and baby but this condition may be persistent, beginning in the third trimester and lasting for up to 3 months postpartum.

One condition that causes itching and may have more serious ramifications is pemphigoid gestationis, also known as herpes gestationis, which is associated with a higher risk for preterm labor.

Intense itching may be a sign of a serious condition known as intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. This is a liver ailment that affects less than half of all pregnant women in the United States and is characterized by redness, itching, and little cuts that result from the scratching, but no rash.

The bottom line? Call your doctor or midwife if you're experiencing severe itching and get yourself checked. You may still itch, but you'll have better peace of mind.


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