Itching Belly While Pregnant: What to Do About It?

The retail markets are flooded with creams, balms, and lotions, promising stretch mark-free pregnant bellies. There is no doubt that a body is stretched to its limit while growing new life. Often this can come with some skin discomfort, particularly, itchy skin. Sometimes, this itchy skin can be a sign of a more serious pregnancy complication.

Key takeaways:
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    Stretching skin and dryness are the main causes of itching during pregnancy.
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    There are many in-home remedies to help soothe itchy skin during pregnancy.
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    Itching skin is generally harmless but could be a sign of a more serious pregnancy complication.
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    Always speak with your obstetrician or midwife with any skin-related concerns.

What causes an itchy belly during pregnancy?

Your rapidly expanding belly will have you questioning whether your skin can stretch anymore. This quick expansion, dry skin, possible dehydration, and altered oil gland production are the reasons for irritating, itchy skin.

Stretch marks - red or silvery marks on the skin- are an incredibly common side effect of pregnancy. Stretch marks frequently occur on the belly, buttocks, breasts, and thighs, which are all areas that may grow quickly in a short period. Stretch marks do not disappear after pregnancy, but they will fade to silvery or white marks on the skin.

What to do about your itchy belly

What can you do to support your skin during this pregnancy transformation?

  • Proper Hydration: our skin loves water. Pregnancy increases your body’s water needs. Be sure to drink AT LEAST 8-12 glasses of water, or 64-96 ounces, daily.
  • Moisturize: the best lotions and creams should be free of fragrances and perfumes. Fragrance chemicals can be skin irritants and worsen your itchy skin.
  • Cold Compress: a cool wet cloth or ice pack for about 5-10 minutes will soothe itchy skin. Try putting your lotion in the refrigerator too!
  • Bathe in warm, not hot water. Hot water can dry out your skin.
  • Add oatmeal or baking soda to your bath water.
  • Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing.
  • Consider a humidifier in your home during the cold months.
  • Moisture in the air can help hydrate dry skin.
  • Monitor your stress levels.

Speak with your obstetrician, midwife, or dermatologist if these at-home solutions do not relieve your itching. If you already suffer from atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, or eczema before pregnancy, your symptoms may improve or worsen while you are pregnant. These changes are different for everyone. It is important to review with your obstetrician or midwife any topical or oral medications you may take for a skin condition to ensure they are safe to take during pregnancy.

When itchy skin can be a pregnancy complication

You must speak with your obstetrician or midwife about all your pregnancy symptoms. Most often, your symptoms will be normal and have no cause for concern. Comfort measures may be the only recommendation. However, symptoms can be a sign of serious pregnancy complications.

Pruritic Urticaria Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy

Pruritic Urticaria Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy, or PUPPP, is a common skin condition during pregnancy whose origin is not fully understood. PUPPP most often affects first-time pregnancies in the last trimester. The condition is not harmful to you or your baby but can cause discomfort. A PUPPP skin rash starts as tiny red bumps that may join to form an itchy, hive-like rash.

The rash often starts on the growing belly with stretch marks and can spread to the back, arms, and legs. The rash can develop small fluid-filled blisters, and some spots may appear eczema-like. Treatment for PUPPPs is symptomatic. Most find relief from applied corticosteroid creams and antihistamines.

PUPPP’s discomfort could interfere with your ability to sleep, and in this case, a more aggressive oral steroid regimen may be necessary to find relief. PUPPPs will not cause any lasting skin malformation and often disappear following delivery. Many times, PUPPPs does not return following pregnancies.

Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy

Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, or ICP, is a pregnancy-related condition that can have serious complications, such as sudden fetal death if left untreated or undelivered. ICP is a liver disorder that can occur in the late second or third trimesters of pregnancy. The causes are not fully understood but may be related to genetics, hormones, and environmental factors. Bile acids, formed in the liver, accumulate in the blood serum and cause itching. Symptoms include:

  • Intensely itchy palms of hands and soles of feet.
  • Itching is generally worse at night.
  • Difficulty sleeping due to itching.
  • Nausea.
  • Anorexia.
  • Fatigue.
  • Right upper quadrant pain - area of the liver.
  • Dark urine.
  • Pale stool.
  • Elevated liver function tests and bile acids.

Itching on the palms and soles often presents before anything is evident in lab work, which can be enough to form a diagnosis. Immediate treatment for ICP is necessary to decrease the risk of sudden fetal death. Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), also called Ursodiol or Actigall, is taken multiple times a day until delivery. Induction of labor and delivery are recommended beyond 37 weeks pregnant, if not before, depending on the symptoms and pregnancy gestation.

Itchy skin is often an annoying inconvenience of pregnancy that can be eased with simple, in-home remedies. It is vital to remain hydrated throughout pregnancy and utilize heavy, non-fragranced creams to support your quickly expanding skin. Do not hesitate to speak with your obstetrician or midwife if you are concerned that your itching may be something more serious or if it is interrupting your sleep.

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