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Itchy skin while you’re pregnant

Is it normal to itch all over during pregnancy?

It’s normal to feel more itchy while you’re pregnant and this happens to almost one in four women.

Your stretching skin or changing hormones may be at least partly to blame. You may notice the itching most over your bump and breasts.

Itching can also be caused by other common skin conditions, including eczema. Eczema can be a bit unpredictable when you’re pregnant. You may develop it for the first time. If you already have eczema, it could get worse, or better, while you’re pregnant. It’s typical for eczema to cause itching in the folds of your skin, such as the insides of your knees or elbows. Your doctor can recommend safe treatments to soothe eczema.

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Other minor ailments that can make you itch are scabies and thrush, and your GP can also recommend treatments for these. Scabies is a skin irritation caused by tiny mites, and it is very itchy. The fungal infection thrush can also cause itchiness.

It is worth telling your midwife or doctor if you are itching a lot, because very rarely, it can be a warning sign of a liver problem in pregnancy. This is caused by a condition called obstetric cholestasis (OC). But for most women, itching is nothing to worry about.
How can I soothe my itchy skin?

Try to cut back on warm baths or showers, and cleansing products that contain strong detergents or perfumes. These can make your skin dry or irritated, and therefore more prone to itchiness. Use mild, moisturising soaps or pH-balanced body washes to clean your skin.

Moisturise your skin well, preferably with unperfumed products. For eczema, apply whichever creams or ointments your doctor says you can use.

You could try smoothing calamine lotion on to your itchy patches, or adding some oatmeal to your bath. These are traditional remedies, and there isn’t a lot of evidence that they work. However, they are safe to use while you’re pregnant and you may find them comforting.

Try not to get too hot. Heat rash can make itching worse, so wear loose, cotton clothing and stay indoors or in the shade if it’s really hot. It may not be good for your baby if you overheat, in any case.
I’ve got an itchy rash on my tummy. What is it?

This could be caused by a condition called polymorphic eruption of pregnancy (PEP). It’s a common cause of itching with a rash, which usually appears in the final trimester. PEP is not dangerous for your or your baby, and it should go away soon after your baby is born.

We don’t know for sure what causes PEP, but it is more likely to happen if you’re expecting twins or more.

PEP often starts with an itchy rash on your tummy, then your thighs, particularly on your stretch marks. The rash may have small raised red lumps and large inflamed areas of skin.

There are various treatments for PEP, including steroid creams, moisturisers and antihistamines, depending on your symptoms. It’s best to ask your doctor about what to use.
Can my itchiness harm my baby?

In most cases, itchy skin will not affect your baby. Rarely, severe itchiness in your third trimester can be a sign of a liver problem called obstetric cholestasis (OC). There is another name for this condition, intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), which you may also hear.

The exact cause of OC is not clear. We do know that it is more common in women of Indian-Asian and Pakistani-Asian ethnic origin.

If you have OC, it makes you intensely itchy over large areas of your body. Some of the symptoms make it different from everyday itching:
The itching often affects the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.
The itching is often worse at night.
There is no rash.
You may also notice that your wee is dark and that you pass pale-coloured stools.

See your doctor or midwife if you have severe itching. They’ll rule out other likely causes, before offering you blood tests to check for OC.

The itching can be quite bad, and make it hard to sleep. Your doctor may give you medicine or cream to ease it. If you have OC, it should clear up soon after your baby is born.

Having good antenatal care from a consultant-led team is vital when you have OC. The condition means you’re more likely to go into premature labour. If you don’t, your doctor may advise you to have your labour induced so your baby can be born early. You and your baby will be carefully monitored, so your doctor can advise you about the best time for your baby’s birth.

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