It is not uncommon for pregnant women to feel itchy, as the blood supply to the skin increases. Some pregnant women especially feel a mild itch around their abdomen, where the skin stretches as the abdomen grows. Others feel the mild itch in their palms and the soles of their feet. This is caused by hormonal changes and an increase in estrogen.
Mild itching during pregnancy should be no cause for alarm, but it is important to note that severe and persistent itching can be a sign of a liver condition called obstetric cholestasis, or intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). Although this affects fewer than 1 in 100 pregnant women, it no doubt needs medical attention.
Here are 7 steps you can take to ease mild itching:
1. Don’t scratch. Scratching the itch may seem like a solution, but it will only make matters worse and cause more irritation to the skin.
2. Avoid anything that would make you hot. You should wear loose, cotton clothing and stay indoors or in the shade if it is really hot.
3. Avoid hot showers and baths. Hot showers and baths can dry out your skin and make itching worse. So it is best to avoid them. In addition, make sure the bath is warm, not hot, and gently pat yourself dry afterward.
4. Moisturize. To curb the itching, you can use a gentle fragrance-free moisturizer including shea butter. Apply it frequently and generously. Remember to apply a moisturizer that you can keep in the refrigerator to further reduce itching.
5. Avoid strong perfumes. Use plain lotion or soap instead of products with strong perfumes, because they may be irritating to the skin.
6. Soak it up. Soak yourself in a gentle oatmeal bath with warm water. This can work wonders for dry skin and make sure the water is not too hot.
7. Ensure that you wear clean and dry clothing every day. Wear loose clothing that will not rub against your skin or affect the dryness on the upper layer of the skin.
WARNING: ICP is a liver disease specific to pregnancy — it affects around 5,000 women in the UK each year, and is caused by high levels of bile acids (chemicals in the liver that aid digestion).
It is characterised by unexplained itching, usually with no rash, though this isn’t always the case; women may notice their urine has become darker, and they may feel generally unwell and tired.
The disease can occur as early as six weeks, although is more common later in pregnancy.