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Why Am I So Itchy During Pregnancy?

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Some women experience an increased amount of itchiness during pregnancy. Itching can be caused by a few things which are usually manageable. In cases of extreme and relentless itchiness, you should consult your doctor about the possibility of ‘obstetric cholestasis’ or ‘intrahepatic cholestasis in pregnancy’ – though this is a rare condition.

Why am I more itchy than usual during pregnancy?

  • Your skin stretches a lot as your body changes during pregnancy. Stretching can make skin feel dry, tight and itchy – particularly across the belly.
  • If you have eczema, this may worsen during pregnancy.
  • Changing hormones may lead to feelings of itchiness.
  • Increased stress could make you feel itchy.

How do I relieve itchiness?

  • Wear natural materials
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Take a cool bath for relief
  • Chat to your pharmacist or GP about oatmeal baths
  • Avoid using any scented skincare products
  • Avoid hot showers – hot water can be irritating, cool water can be soothing
  • Double rinse your bedsheets to rinse off as much detergent as possible
  • Change bedsheets frequently
  • Keep wet washcloths in the fridge for instant relief to a small area
  • Try to avoid scratching
  • Keep your nails short and clean to minimise trauma to the skin if you do scratch
  • Moisturise your body, ideally after a shower while the skin is slightly damp.

What is obstetric cholestasis?

‘Obstetric cholestasis’ (OC), also known as ‘intrahepatic cholestasis in pregnancy’ (IPC), is a condition that presents as severe itchiness. A change in liver function can cause this due to a rise in pregnancy hormones. OC affects fewer than 1 in 100 women, though it is important to see your doctor if you have been experiencing intense itchiness.

Pregnancy hormones can slow the flow of bile through the liver. This means bile salts build up in your liver and can enter the bloodstream, causing an itchy feeling. Typical symptoms of OC include:

  • Itch without a rash
  • Itchy palms and soles of feet
  • Itching is worse at night
  • Dark urine
  • Pale poos
  • Jaundice (yellow tinge to skin and whites of eyes)
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue.

If you develop OC, your doctor may prescribe antihistamines or steroid creams. Never use these while pregnant unless a doctor instructs you to. You will likely have frequent Liver Function Tests to monitor your health and the health of your baby.

OC can sometimes cause premature births so discuss with your doctor how to best manage this condition. With professional help, the condition can usually be managed without lasting adverse effects.

A lot of the time, the main issue with OC is how frustrating it is to be so itchy! The good news is lotions and fabric choices can minimise your distress, plus itching is usually gone a few days after birth. However, if your issues persist postpartum then speak to your doctor.

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